The Single Greatest Performance From an Actor Who Was in Just One Scene
Alfred Molina delivered a career-defining performance in just under 10 minutes in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights. Molina’s character perfectly represented the film’s setting and Anderson’s vision. While the film was not about crime and drug deals, Anderson gave a glimpse into that world as it was the only option left for characters who had tried and failed to achieve success.
Molina’s character was inspired by real-life drug dealer Eddie Nash, and his portrayal added a specific kind of villain to the cautionary tale about drugs being the lowest point one can reach.
The music in the film helped to transport the audience to a specific moment in time, the transition from the ’70s to the ’80s. Hard drugs were prevalent in LA’s scene at every level, and Anderson’s portrayal of a dangerous drug deal was a tense and meticulous exercise in anxiety that left viewers rattled. Molina’s performance as Rahad Jackson was the element that drove the tension to the max. His physical performance was relentless and invasive, with his heavy mustache, attire, and sweat adding to his character’s persona. Molina’s character keeps praising the awesome mixtape he made and maniacally laughs at the talent behind his favorite song, Sister Christian.
The scene is a set piece, planned and prepared by Anderson to showcase the cinematic value of characters facing danger beyond their control. Molina’s Jackson accepts the deal and points to his bodyguard to check the product, but suddenly the music stops, and Jackson looks sideways. The dealers stare in awe, waiting for the bang, but it’s just the stereo changing sides. Jackson’s attitude throughout the ordeal is that of “Don’t worry about it.” Even when he pulls out a gun and starts playing roulette, he pretends to celebrate his grandiosity.
Molina’s integrity as an actor shines through as the excitement causes his skin to go crimson, gloating about his ability to spit at the face of death itself. His performance as Jackson feels like an inevitable end to Dirk Diggler and Reed Rothchild’s journey. They have witnessed fate in its most vulgar shape ever, with the sweaty satin robe they could smell and the sound of their favorite music. Rahad Jackson was a bomb that didn’t go off but whose effect was as deadly and traumatic. Molina proved that nine minutes were more than enough to portray the decadence of Los Angeles during the ’80s.
Boogie Nights is available to stream on Hulu, and Molina’s performance is a must-watch for any cinema lover.
In a little under 10 minutes, Alfred Molina performed one of the highlights of his career. Showing up in the third act of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie NightsMolina rearranged the film’s initial tone with the portrayal of a figure that perfectly represented the period the film was set in. This wasn’t a film about crime and drug deals, but Anderson opened a veil to that world as the only potential checkpoint for characters that had tried their best and anything and couldn’t possibly achieve something. If the director wanted to make Boogie Nights a cautionary tale about drugs being the lowest thing you can go for, then he went for a very specific kind of villain performed by Molina. His character was undoubtedly inspired by a real-life drug dealer (Eddie Nash of the Wonderland murders).
The music helps to position you in a certain moment in time. This was a period of transition from the ’70s to the ’80s. Reagan was in office, but hard drugs were part of LA’s scene at every level possible. Tension was supposed to be part of drug dealing, but Anderson’s portrayal of a dangerous and stupid drug deal is a meticulous exercise of anxiety that rattled everyone in the movie theater back then. We were already shaken by the rotten dynamics of the adult film industry and its consequences, we just wanted to rest. But he made sure to include one final piece that took our star to the lowest step of the ladder. There’s that famous shot of Dirk Diggler realizing he’s in Hell and the only way to escape is by panicking.
Yes, the scene in itself is a masterpiece but as we said before, the performance by Alfred Molina is the one element that it couldn’t do without and drives the tension to the max by reacting to the improbable and violently defending his best interest. Let’s dig around that.
A Drug Deal Gone Haywire From The Very Beginning
Our characters, Dirk and Reed were trying to make ends meet, and they decide to try one very stupid thing: to cheat a kingpin by selling him baking soda instead of cocaine. Their friend is the leader of the scam, so the three arrive at the mansion of the victim. Todd reveals he has a gun. The other two panic just before Rahad Jackson’s bodyguard lets them in the house. Wearing only a satin robe and a very small bikini, Jackson welcomes them as Night Ranger’s Sister Christian is blasting on the speakers. He’s excited to receive company, and he doesn’t care much for his boy toy Cosmo who keeps blowing up firecrackers in an enclosed space. The dealers jump at every explosion and thus, tension begins.
Molina’s physical performance is relentless and almost invasive. The very heavy mustache, the attire, and the sweat are part of his persona who keeps praising the awesome mixtape he made. Before receiving the package he stops the men in order to air-drum the hell out of Sister Christian’s great beat drop. He maniacally laughs at the talent of the musicians behind one of his favorite songs. In the background, Cosmo raises the stakes with an endless supply of firecrackers that every second that goes by, begin sounding more and more like stray bullets (Anderson ordered Molina to use earplugs and a monitor so he could only hear the dialogue of the scene and not the firecrackers).
As the deals extend beyond expectations, we begin to notice this won’t end well for any of the participants.
The Music, The Firecrackers, The Sweat
The scene is a set piece, of course. Carefully planned and prepared by a filmmaker who understands the cinematic value of leads submitted to danger beyond what they could foresee. Molina’s Jackson accepts the deal and points to this bodyguard to get the money but also to check the product. But suddenly the music stops, and so does Jackson. He looks sideways, and we think he will kill anything that dared to stop the music. The dealers stare in awe and wait for the bang. Luckily, it’s just the stereo automatically changing sides when the song ends. The relief is false.
Rick Springfield begins asking why he can’t find a woman like that and Jackson declares that’s his friend as he goes to smoke with a pipe and get a gun. He only wants to show it to the guys who dared enter his house. The tension in the sofa grows. Beads of sweat run through Dirk’s face as he realizes the bodyguard may have noticed the powder wasn’t exactly what they said it was.
As Todd finally reveals his plan, Jackson stays cool while the others beg for their release. They are trapped by concealed machine guns and surely other devices. Cosmo’s binge seems to grow Jackson’s confidence in telling Dirk and Reed to be cool. He’s got this. That is until Todd’s gun appears, and all hell breaks loose.
The Fall of Man by Paul Thomas Anderson
Jackson’s attitude throughout the whole ordeal is that of “Don’t worry about it.” He sees the men all concerned and jumpy at the sound of firecrackers and all he says is that. Even when Jackson pulls out a gun a starts playing roulette, he pretends to celebrate his grandiosity. Being an unbeatable and powerful crime lord in San Fernando Valley gives him the kick he expects and cheats death countless times. Molina’s integrity as an actor is transparent as the excitement causes his skin to go crimson as he gloats about his ability to spit at the face of death itself.
A shorter scene would have meant a cameo. A longer one would have forced Anderson to explain more about Jackson. Fortunately, the script says otherwise and Molina’s performance as Jackson feels like an inevitable end to Dirk Diggler and Reed Rothchild’s journey. They have witnessed fate in its most vulgar shape ever. A sweaty satin robe they could smell and the sound of their favorite music. Rahad Jackson was a bomb that didn’t go off, but whose effect was as deadly and traumatic. Of course, only possible in the hands of an underrated character actor who proved nine minutes were more than enough to portray the decadence of Los Angeles during the ’80s.
You can stream Boogie Nights on Hulu.