Boogie Nights - Rated - Simmering

Boogie Nights is quite an engaging little film. It has a good cast, a tight script, and terrific production design. It treats its seemingly salacious subject with extraordinary delicacy. You would think that a film about the porn film industry would have its uncomfortable moments, and perhaps even be embarrassing to watch. But no - it is strangely unsensational, and not at all titillating.

But that doesn't mean it's a bore. Not does it mean that there is no sex or nudity. There's plenty of both. In fact there are some excruciating scenes involving a woman (real-life porn star Nina Hartley) who flaunts her infidelities in front of her husband (William H Macy, from Fargo ). But that is much more poignant than salacious. And funny too. The film is extremely funny, and very well-observed, by someone (26-year-old Director Paul Thomas Anderson) who wasn't quite an insider, but who was around in the 70s and 80s, living in the San Fernando Valley. He seems to have understood exactly what was going on in the skin-flick industry, pre and post the video era. And he puts it all, rather lovingly, on the screen.

He is very tender towards his characters. I found myself wondering why these actors, who seemed to do as much coke as they could possibly manage, were able to look (relatively) good on film after a decade. Why didn't the industry just use them up and spit them out? Why was film-producer Jack Horner (beautifully played by Burt Reynolds) such a good father to them all? Did he sleep with any of them? If not why not? Anderson doesn't answer these questions, and he tends to soft-pedal on some of the harsher aspects of the scene. In fact, that's my major problem with the film - it ends so gently. I suspect the reality was death and despair for most of these actors - as I know it was for the "real" Dirk Diggler.

Anderson is clearly a student of film, much as Tarantino is. There are homages in this film to the tracking shot which opens Welles' A Touch of Evil , and the tracking shots of Ray Liotta in Scorsese's Goodfellas . Anderson also has the very literal approach to the film's soundtrack that Scorsese has begun to develop recently - listen to the soundtrack of Casino and see how each song comments heavy-handedly on the action. Anderson does the same thing here. But the soundtrack has great selection of songs. Even Rick Springfield gets a look-in, with that deathless tune, Jesse's Girl.

Which brings me to the performances: Mark Wahlberg gives us a terrific portrait of Eddie Anderson, who becomes the great porn star "Dirk Diggler" ("Great name" as Jack Horner kept saying - of everyone!) Wahlberg has to give us 3 levels of acting. The first is the performance he gives us of Eddie Anderson/Dirk Diggler. The second is his performance in the porn films themselves (which are hilarious). And the third is the performances he gives to his mirror throughout the film - particularly the last one, when he rehearses a scene and gives up some pretty good acting. He's found something within himself at last. Something other than his extraordinary physical gift. It's a truly layered performace, and it works.

Julianne Moore is the other standout. She plays porn star Amber Waves (Great Name!). I love Julianne Moore. She's such an intelligent actress. If there were any doubt at all about that, her performance in Vanya on 42nd Street confirmed that. And here, though at times she looks unattractive and pathetic, she retains her trademark luminosity.

Burt Reynolds also shines. He's like a well-worn piece of metal. Strong, bright and resiliant, he brings a kind of gravity to a potentially sleazy role. And then he does the thing with the names. It is almost as if he brings the characters to life by approving their names. He weaves a magic spell, and it protects all those who stay with him, under that spell. And the names stick in your head for days!

Finally, I have to mention the scene with Alfred Molina and his Chinese boyfriend. It was one of the most tense scenes in my recent film memory, and yet hilarious at the same time. And at the end, Anderson allows his camera to rest on Mark Wahlberg's face for what seems like ages. This was something Krzysztof Kiéslowski used to do, and it works here for Anderson too. We get inside Wahlberg's head as he slowly begins to see the total mess that his life has become. It is a pivotal moment in the film. It tips you off that something great is about to happen, but, unfortunately, I'm afraid I'm still waiting for that revelation.