Watching Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights is like building up a castle from a deck of cards and then seeing it crumble. The movie is like a high rise to the top and then a sudden fall to the bottom. Starring a huge cast which boasts some great talents like Burt Reynolds, Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Don Cheadle, John C. Reily, Thomas Jane, William H. Macy and Philip Seymour Hoffman, Boogie Nights is a fast paced, adrenaline rushed and never wavering tale of lust for money, fame and power, seen through the booming porn industry of the 70s and the 80s.

The movie starts with one of the best long takes in recent memory, introducing all the necessary characters in the movie. It starts off with Jack (Burt Reynolds), a director and Amber (Julianne Moore), a pornographic actress, making their way into a club. It follows them through the passageway into the main part of the club, where they are welcomed by Maurice (Luis Guzman). They meet Rollergirl (Heather Graham), a young pornographic actress who never takes off her rollers. After that we are introduced to Buck (Don Cheadle) and Reed (John C. Reily) who are dancing on the floor. Finally, the camera lands on a waiter. He is a young, handsome kid who looks in his teens. His name is Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) and he immediately catches the eye of Jack. This is the setup, introduced in the initial scene of the movie. After that we are plunged into the world of pornography. Eddie has a very “special asset”. He quickly gains fame under the banner of Jack and he is happy to be around people who appreciate him, something that his own mother never did. It is clear from the beginning that Eddie, who later assumes the name of Dirk Diggler, is fascinated by the money and the fame that he is acquainted to.

But every good thing has to come to an end, by nature. Similar thing happens to Dirk and his life in porn. After gaining immense success and money, Dirk stumble into the darker side of it. He indulges in drugs and becomes an addict. He develops an ego the size of Texas. He falls apart from Jack and unsuccessfully tries his luck in Rock n Roll with his friend and fellow pornstar Reed, and a homosexual boom operate (Philip Seymour Hoffman). But hiss money quickly runs out and he tries to rob a drug dealer (Alfred Molina in a scene stealing performance).

What this movie tries to do, and succeeds in, is creating an immensely human network of characters who are involved in an industry with which a common man doesn’t usually connect with. Through the eyes of relatable characters, the movie is at the same time both touching and pitiful. Paul Thomas Anderson succeeds in telling a tale that has an array of unusual industry but has characters, and those characters facing problems, that are highly usual: trying to ease their way back into society, providing for their family, looking for love, looking for fame, looking for money, etc.

Speaking of the performances, suffice it to say that everyone in this huge ensemble is well cast. Mark Wahlberg in the leading role exudes vulnerability and a certain charisma that is demanding of his role. He is effective as the youth with a lust for fame, money, freedom and anything he wants. Burt Reynolds as the porn movies director is the clear show stealer of the movie. His cool, calm and calculated man who has an eye for talent and he considers the people who work with him as his family, is near perfect. His performance is probably the best in the movie. Julianne Moore’s performance as a veteran pornographic actress on one hand, and a mother who is battling for the custody of her son on the other, is touching and disgusting at the same time; disgusting because she is clearly unfit for her child, embezzling in drugs and porn, and touching because she just wants to see her son, a mother’s love. Supporting cast includes Don Cheadle, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Heather Graham, William H. Macy, John C. Reily and Tom Jane, with a cameo from Alfred Molina.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s direction is impeccable. Running a little over 2 hours and thirty minutes, the movie never drags or feels repetitive. He knows that he has tons of characters and he gives ample time to all of them, so that the audience connects with all of them, not just the protagonist. The music from the 70s and 80s infuses new life in the movie and is brilliant. The long takes of the movie (of which there are several) are a treat to watch.            

To conclude, this is one of the best movies about the 70s and 80s to grace the silver screen. Call it The Player with a message from Scarface.