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often said that there are only seven (five, twelve take your pick) stories in the
world, the rest are all variations on a theme. The film industry has extended the adage a
step further through the use of sequels, prequels, and what might be called
"spin" movies take an existing story and give it a twist. Thus, Speed (bus blows up if it slows below 50 mph) begets Chill Factor (chemical weapon blows up if it
gets warmer than 50 degrees). This cut-and-paste method of filmmaking usually results in
something less than art. Boiler Room is the debut effort of writer/director Ben
Younger and proves to be a welcome exception. Part Wall Street, part Glengarry Glen Ross, with the demographics cranked
down a few notches to aim it squarely at Gen-Xers, it's an entertaining and high-energy
inside look at twentysomethings on the financial prowl in an environment where the only
mantra is greed.
Seth Davis (Giovanni Ribisi, Medic Wade in Saving
Private Ryan) is a 19-year-old college dropout, running a blackjack casino out of
his Queens apartment. Seth isn't particularly enamored of his situation ("I
dont believe in destiny. I believe in the odds") even with the steady income.
Pressure from his distant and disapproving father, a federal judge, leads him to listen
when a long-time customer clues him into a new and bigger operation. It's J. T. Marlin
Securities ("We're not selling stock, we're selling dreams") where the
average age is under 25, the pressure is high, and so are the commission checks.
Seth signs up for Marlin's broker training program and is soon under
the tutelage of Chris (Vin Diesel, Pitch
Black) and Greg (Nicky Katt, The
Limey). Chris is a take-no-prisoners juggernaut, Greg more a
policies-and-procedures type, but Seth likes what he sees they're both under 30 and
driving Ferraris. Learning the business primarily consists of pressuring unsophisticated
investors with strident cold calls until they succumb. And soon its apparent that
some things dont quite fit. The firm's offices are hidden out on Long Island, far
from the financial district. Abby, the company secretary (Nia Long, Boys in the Hood)
makes $80,000. The more Seth learns the more his suspicions are raised.
Writer/director Younger does a fine job of depicting details and moving
the story along at a frenetic pace, so that the audience gets a good feel for a broker's
grinding life and the kinds of stress they endure. The dialog is intense, smart, and surly
- just how we'd expect conversations to be in such a pressure cooker. Cinematographer
Enrique Chediak (Desert Blue) uses fluorescent lighting and hand-held
camera shots to create an effective hamster-wheel atmosphere of frenzied desperation and
The acting is uniformly good, with an especially strong set of
supporting performances from Diesel, Katt and Long. Ben Affleck shows up in three scenes
as Marlin's recruiting honcho and makes his limited screen time memorable.
Characterizations are well drawn no stereotypes here especially in the
romance between Abby and Seth. The fact that they're of different races is never an issue.
It's refreshing that there's no big Confronting Our Color scene, they're just two people
gradually and gently falling in love. Ribisi is especially solid. He shows the transition
from neophyte to callous pro with elan - there's a great scene where he gets a call from
a newspaper salesperson and critiques the poor guy's pitch. By the end of the film you can
see that the work has taken a toll - his face looks like the underbelly of a tadpole, pale
and clammy, his eyes blankly sunken.
A couple of aspects dont work - some psychobabble explaining why Seth's
Dad is such a mean son of a bitch and a subplot about a novice investor who risks $50,000
he and his wife had saved for a new house. But Boiler Room deserves credit for
taking a very fresh look at some well-worn themes, showing a world where money rules and
the good guys not only finish last, they get eaten alive.
- Bob Aulert