I've given PT Anderson some pretty sour ratings lately, but he did show a lot of early promise. I liked "Hard Eight" quite a bit, and I loved this movie.
"Boogie Nights" stylishly weaves the lives of numerous late '70s porn industry players into a sweeping narrative, confidently shot with some directorial winks to Robert Altman and Martin Scorcese. It begins with a long steadicam shot, alá "Goodfellas" which seems the most obvious inspiration, but "Boogie Nights" is a wider ensemble piece, and strikes me as a bouncier, lighter film. Although it deals with heavy subjects like pornography, drug abuse and suicide it does so with a fluid and sometimes witty visual flair and could nearly be classified a comedy, at least through the first two thirds of its running time. When it does turn serious, and dark, it's still effective and the audience has built up real sympathy for the characters. It's structured like a biopic, but Anderson tackles the clichés of the genre at odd angles, and it feels fresh.
There's not a bad performance in the film, with standouts from Burt Reynolds, Don Cheedle and William H. Macy. Hmm, come to think of it, John C. Reilly and Philip Baker Hall are pretty good too, so I don't want to leave them out. They're good and actually Thomas Jane is impressive in a smaller role as well. Wait, did I mention Julianne Moore? Luis Guzman? Ahh, you know what? EVERYONE is good - Marky Mark, Heather Graham, Philip Seymour Hoffman, etc. Even the extras sparkle in the backround as little anonymous non-speaking porno people. How's that? It's a fine cast from top to bottom and a well written, excellent movie.
If only PT Anderson could write such a movie today. I thought "Magnolia" was just awful, ribbit, and I felt sorry for the actors reading those lines and keeping a straight face through the finale. It was a spectacular mess. "No Blood for Oil", or whatever the Daniel Plainview movie was called, was only marginally better.
Somewhere along the line, for reasons unknown, Anderson has gotten bogged down in moralism and wildly excessive emotions, and his characters no longer seem real. They feel like stand-ins for something sad in his outlook. I don't mean to say that he shouldn't write sad characters anymore, or avoid sad movies, I mean that his characters don't seem fully formed anymore- they seem like symptoms of something he's trying to fix. His vision has curdled into stridency. No one, and I mean no one, acts like the basket cases in "Magnolia". Tom Cruise's crying scene wasn't touching, it was an embarrassment. The only restrained performance in the film was from Jason Robards, and that's because he was bedridden and nearly comatose. He laid there motionless like a proper dying person should, and his scenes were actually a relief from all the wailing and gnashing of teeth through the rest of the film. In the oil gusher movie, after about an hour of Daniel Day Lewis hamming it up, with another two hours to go, I almost threw in the towel. That movie was about as subtle as a sack full of exploding sledgehammers. "Oil!"--"Religion!"--"America!" -- Yeah, I get it! Now please put down the bowling pin!
Anyway, I digress. "Boogie Nights" is an exceptional movie, 5 stars, and I hope PT Anderson snaps out of his funk someday, drops his silly symbolism and speechifying, and returns to making movies with the energy and pulse of this one.