“You want somethin’ to drink? A little pill, a little coke, a little dope? I got everything!”
In 1997, Californian auteur Paul Thomas Anderson shone a spotlight on the American adult entertainment industry with his second feature film Boogie Nights. Looking back eighteen years later, it’s hard to think of many better casts captured on film. Though surrounded by Hollywood stars, one of the film’s most enduring and memorable performances comes from dependable Brit thespian Alfred Molina in a truly transformative role. The term “tour de force” is often bandied about but when referencing the Paddington-born actor’s role here, it’s imperative. A truly destructive display which leaves audiences anxiety-ridden for his ten-minute screen time and catching their breath long after he disappears from view.
Across the film’s 150+ minutes, Anderson drags us down the rabbit hole with each member of his wonderful cast wrung out and, in some cases, strung out by the time the film’s brutal third act emerges. With Boogie Nights‘ leads living through a nightmare, it’s Alfred Molina’s twitchy, volatile dealer Rahad Jackson who acts as the monster at the end of it.
From the exterior view of his tacky suburban palace, it’s clear that Rahad is a big player in the Californian underground drug trade – the kind of fellow our leads should be steering well clear of and definitely not the sort to try ripping off, which is sadly the reason we’re making his acquaintance in this scene. In stark comparison to the wonderfully clueless and weed-addled recent PTA protagonist Doc Sportello, Mr. Jackson is hopped up on something a lot stronger entirely – cocaine – and by the looks of it he’s dosed up to the eyeballs.
Our first view of Rahad has him wearing nothing but a silk gown, Y-fronts and flip flops, whilst swaying his outstretched arms to the ’80s pulse of Night Ranger’s ‘Sister Christian‘. There’s something deeply disconcerting about our first look at the kingpin; Molina jerks about the room with mesmeric reckless abandon, rhythmically flailing his limbs to the sounds bursting out of his hi-fi. Firecrackers whizz and bang past our subject, thrown by a mysterious young man known only as Cosmo, perfectly foreshadowing the explosiveness of his character. Watching this introduction to Molina’s sweaty and shaky portrayal of Rahad leaves the viewer anxiety-ridden from the off; the guy is an unpredictable ball of energy, restless throughout.
You’ve no doubt seen Mr. Molina before, a fantastic British character actor whose work has been showcased across Hollywood majors and indie fare; a dependable pair of hands to help flesh out a film. Here, however, his hands don’t so much help bring along narrative, but grab the film by the throat and bash it into the walls of Rahad’s gaudy apartment.
Though erratic and seemingly imprecise, Molina’s portrayal is incredibly intimidating, making it abundantly clear that Rahad has no time for small talk during the meet. Despite being donned in a silk dressing gown and underpants, listening to garish string-heavy music, he still holds court – as well as viewers’ nerves, firmly in his grasp. Sweating and nodding viciously, he demands to move conversation forward like a wrecking-ball straight through the pages of the script. Relentlessly energetic, funnelled through involuntary smiles and exuberant fist-bumps, Molina does not let up. He is direct, bookending any random outbursts with stern, piercing looks beneath thick dark brows. If there still happens to be any rug underneath the viewer, it is surely soon to be pulled.
Fuelling our nervosa further, we see him light his crack pipe with a blowtorch, take a hit and proceed to unbox a gun of his. He waves the pistol underneath his chin whilst laughing maniacally with his eyeballs ready to burst out of his sockets, those firecrackers still illuminating a dark brooding terror. Molina seemingly forgets how to have full control of his limbs and tongue, slurring the lyrics of the kitsch songs washing over the room.
That said, one of the strongest accessories to this scene and to Molina is the track list of Rahad’s “Awesome Mix Tape #6” which plays throughout our visit to his dwelling, opening with ‘Sister Christian’, which helps introduce our villain as someone cut from a different cloth to many other motion-picture drug pushers – rarely has the camp of 1980s synthpop been used in such a setting. As our scene draws to its brash, bullet-laden finale we’re left with the electro-bass romp of ‘99 Red Balloons‘ soundtracking Molina’s awkward gun-toting and ungainly sprinting about. It’s here that the essence of Jackson is perfectly captured by talent and direction, a villain not like any other and our fear born from his violent unpredictability
Molina is on our screen for just ten minutes but his performance encapsulates the ecstasy and horror we get from Boogie Nights as a whole and serves as one of the enduring performances of a masterful ensemble.