The main themes in Boogie Nights are the obvious ones relating to a film of this genre; pornography, drugs, sex, betrayal, violence and music. Boogie Nights deals with the pornography theme with some control. It is not overplayed and the sex scenes are surprisingly minimal, but mentally explicit when they take place on screen.
Throughout the film cocaine is abused enormously, and the film's setting, Los Angeles 1977-1983, reflects the popularity of the drug at that time, which the film captures perfectly. However, Boogie Nights does not promote cocaine, as there are some scenes involving addiction and overdoses. For example at Jack's party, they find a girl who has recently, and graphically, overdosed; blood pours from her nose and she begins an unconscious fit. The film, before this scenes, has been fairly upbeat and comic, but from this point it foreshadows the darkness that it will occur.
The music scenes are executed brilliantly, from superbly-staged disco scenes to a down-and-out Dirk singing terribly in his new music career. The soundtrack too is excellent, featuring tunes from The Emotions, ELO, The Beach Boys and the unforgettable Sound Experience. The standout scene in the whole film comes down to the music; Dirk, Redd Rothchild (John C. Reilly) and Todd Parker (Thomas Jane) visit drug dealer Rahad Jackson's (Alfred Molina) house in order to make some quick cash from selling phoney drugs, but Night Ranger's Sister Christian, which is playing in the background, increases the intensity of the scene incredibly, proving that music can bring so much more depth to a scene. Boogie Nights is filled with those kind of scenes, which makes the film even more fantastic.
The standout performance in Boogie Nights is Burt Reynolds as the enigmatic, yet moody, film director. In the scene where he attacks a young guy for slating his movies, it is a complete shock for the audience, because before this point he has been pretty mellow and content. Other notable performances are Julianne Moore, Heather Graham as the beautiful Rollergirl, John C. Reilly, and Mark Wahlberg, who delivers the performance of his career.
Boogie Nights is also a surprisingly original film, using common themes but filmed in its own sharp and realistic way. Anderson's approach has been fully captures these characters in a time when nothing seemed to be going wrong, or at least until the 80s arrive. From then on, things turn very dark indeed, and all signs of the recognisable characters and situations from the first part of the film have gone. This does not, however, reduce the high level of engaging entertainment that this film offers.
Boogie Nights was not a box-office success, earning only £2 million at cinemas in the UK. But this is not the film's, or the director's concern. Anderson recognises quality, not popularity, which is evident in his three other films, Hard Eight, Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love. I would recommend this film to anyone who enjoys a simple parable filled with excellent and variable situations, because at the end of this film you will realize that Boogie Nights is a simple morality tale, but one which will stay in the mind days after you watch it. Boogie Nights is at once shocking, hilarious, devastating and both visually and audibly outstanding.