WHAT I LIKED: There are lots of films out there about the danger of indulging in the vices of wild sex, hard drugs or extreme wealth, but what makes Paul Thomas Anderson's 'Boogie Nights' such a successful one is that it largely keeps a handle on the humanity of its chatacters and the reasoning behind their decisions throughout.
How does he do that? Well on the one hand here we see the temptation of all of the pornography business utterly brilliantly, as Anderson builds a world that's entirely believable and undeniably appealing from an outsider's point of view with his all-consuming set-design and a perfect sense of space thanks to a set of unbelievable tracking shots which frame the attraction perfectly.
Mainly though, Anderson succeeds because he makes us understand every characters' vulnerability to the temptation, as the script gives every lost soul real development. Mark Whalberg's stray teen Eddie in particular - a young man who's grown up to believe in the American Dream but has spent his recent years as a high-school drop-out - initially sees everything through excitable eyes, and one tense confrontation with his mother and a glance around his room (along with Whalberg's sympathetic performance) gives us enough we need to understand him.
But things naturally don't stay sweet for long, and in that department Anderson is very good at portraying the darkness underneath the sheen. We see Amber (played by Julianne Moore) at the top of the business but a drug addict and mother to an estranged son, and "roller-girl," another young victim of the world who struggled at high-school and found easy money with but clearly no validation in the vices. Just like they have for Amber, things begin to spiral out of control for an Eddie who initially feels like he's on top of the world, and as the story fully descends into tragedy (spurred along by a device about the cheapening of the industry thanks to home video) the film shows its colours further as one with a very dark heart indeed.
But the crucial thing is, even whilst that happens and Eddie begins to fall victim of his choice to give into temptation, we continue to care about him and view him mostly as a victim. Pretty much all of these characters are victims - of their own misinformed choices yes, but we can ultimately understand why they make those choices because of the development they get. That ultimately makes for a very affecting and successful drama, and despite the lavish world and the comic relief, the film never loses sight of its serious heart. It's a difficult watch, but it's a very clever one indeed.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: Some of the characters' humanity does diminish towards the third act as things spiral out of control, and that's largely because there are some huge missteps in the script where it feels as though things are being played for laughs when in fact they're rather tragic moments.
VERDICT: A film all about the dangers of giving into the temptation of sex, drugs and wealth, Paul Thomas Anderson's 'Boogie Nights' works because it largely remains sympathetic to its characters and true to its dark heart, even if at times it does lose sight of that.