Boogie Nights review

Why you can trust GamesRadar+ Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.

Should you be seven feet tall, you must, at some point, have considered the potential of a life devoted to basketball. Similarly, you at least owe yourself a glance at the Opportunities In Pornography brochure if you have a 13-inch cock flapping between your thighs.

Boogie Nights is a welcome rush of cinematic amyl nitrate from writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson, who, at the tender age of 27, has peaked with a film which, despite the subject matter, isn't a drooly old leer into the writhing gynaecology of the porno industry. It's a wonderfully skewed fairytale charting the highs, lows, and, eventually, just-above-middles, of a group of varyingly avid and addled adults as they stumble through a major turning point in their careers and lives.

Burt Reynolds has never been better (dead-eyed detachment, both predatory and homely) as director Jack Horner, the sleazy benefactor to a merry band of fresh-faced fornicators: Amber Waves (Julianne Moore) comes on strong as a seasoned, if a little sozzled, performer - the sleazy auntie to Jack's cuddly uncle; Rollergirl (Heather Graham) is a horny good-time girl permanently fused to her roller-skates; Buck Swope (Don Cheadle) is an over-eager hi-fi salesman suffering from severe style oscillation; Rodriguez (Luis Guzman) is a desperate club owner hanger-on; and the wonderful William H Macy turns in his standard permanently-worried act as Jack's assistant director, staggering wildly through the casual prurience, a doomed, increasingly lost soul.

And then there's "Marky" Mark Wahlberg as Adams/Diggler - all coiled adolescence and corruptible pleasantry (although at times Wahlberg's range is stretched, particularly during a clunky screaming match with his mum, when he bleats the prophetic, "Everyone is blessed with one special thing!").

But Boogie Nights isn't just The Rise And Fall/Frank Confessions Of Dirk Diggler. In retaining a sharp eye for his characters' quirks, weaknesses and dignity-free naivetée, Anderson has achieved much, much more than a porno version of The Player. By demystifying the whole process with hilariously dreadful behind-the-scenes set-ups and over-ambitious themed pretensions, he forces us to recognise sex as just another supply-and-demand commodity, particularly when Jack tries to fend off the inevitable home video boom with a high-minded passion for porn-with-a-plot.

Things sag a little in the middle, when Anderson shows his age with a clumsy eagerness to focus on the darker side of the biz. Instead of popping the seams more subtlely, gradually cranking up the inter-personal turbulence and corporate intrusion, he can't resist letting rip with a single-scene blow-out that pointedly denotes the literal and metaphorical death of the party, the end of the hedonistic '70s and the start of the churlish, capitalist '80s. But he pulls out of the dive later with two masterful scenes. The first concerns hi-fi Floyd in serious peril in a doughnut shop, surrounded by a lake of syrup and squidge; the second recalls the edgy comic violence of Pulp Fiction, Dirk and the boystrying to rip off a coke dealer (Alfred Molina) as an associate ignites firecrackers in the background.

But the peak comes in an inspired twist on the Raging Bull mirror pep-talk, as Anderson cannily follows the rule that it's better to tease at the extent of the monster before revealing it - in all its lasso-like glory, confirming Jack's earlier seduction line, "I got a feeling that behind those jeans is something wonderful just waiting to get out." This is not a film for men with size anxiety.

An indecent, exhilarating tale of success through excess told with a bawdy, bittersweet humour and carried by a stunningly authentic '70s soundtrack. A staggering blend of GoodFellas style, Pulp Fiction wit and good, rocking sex.

More info

Available platformsMovie

The Total Film team are made up of the finest minds in all of film journalism. They are: Editor Jane Crowther, Deputy Editor Matt Maytum, Reviews Ed Matthew Leyland, New Editor Jordan Farley, and Online Editor Jack Shepherd. Expect exclusive news, reviews, features, and more from the team behind the smarter movie magazine.