Why am I just seeing this now? Why didn’t I go see it when it came out in theatres last year? I guess it’s only that there are so many movies which come out every year, heck, every week, that even a film critic can’t see it all. But it’s frustrating when I finally watch a movie on video six months down the road and realize that I’d been missing out all that time. For instance, this happened with “American History X” which, had I not waited for the video, would have been #2 or 3 on my 1998 Top Ten! It’s not so drastic with “Boiler Room”, but it’s still a surprisingly effective movie, certainly a better watch than a lot of what I did see and review last year.
Giovanni Ribisi stars as Seth Keith, a college dropout who runs an illegal casino in his apartment. It’s a really profitable venture for him, but his judge father’s vocal disapproval motivates him to try and get a more respectable occupation. So he hooks up with Greg (Nicky Katz), one of his gambling customers, who bring him to his job as a stock broker at JT Morgan. Everyone there is young, driven and money-hungry, from the trainees to the president (Tom Everett Scott). They must work long hard hours under a lot of pressure trying to close deals on the phone, i.e. milk “whales” for every dollar they got by convincing them that they’re gonna get rich by buying this stock or whatnot. It’s not an easy job, but the firm’s chief recruiter (Ben Affleck) promises all newcomers that they’ll all be millionaires in the next three years, and by looking at all the Porsches and Ferraris in the parking lot, you believe it! It’s almost too good to be true, right? Well, of course it is. The real question is whether Seth will listen to his morality or to his greed…
“Boiler Room” was written and directed by Ben Younger, and from watching this first movie of his, you just know that his is a name to remember. Okay, so it might sound like sort of a generic blend of “The Firm”, “Wall Street” and “Glengarry Glenn Ross” (dialogue from these last two is actually quoted by the characters!), but it’s made into such a tight, tense picture that it’s hard not to be completely caught up in it. Furthermore, there ARE things we’ve never seen or heard here. The film doesn’t pretend to be a documentary, but you can feel that Younger has a knowledge of this world, and it’s fascinating to learn all this sales tricks and bullshit. I mean, we’ve all been on the other end of that phone, being pitched by a pushy salesman, and everyone must have fallen for it one time or the other and spent money on something they didn’t ask for. I personally even tried out at a telemarketing job myself some time ago, but I couldn’t handle bothering people, twisting their arm over the phone and plain lying to them just to make some rich cats richer. I’d rather make less money as a clerk; at least I look people in the face when I sell them crap like cigarettes or lotto.
Anyways, back to the movie, there’s a real thrill in watching these hustlers with suits and neck ties go at it. Sure, they’re assholes, but they’re good at what they do and they have confidence in megatons, and confidence works a long way, especially as it gives a cast of young actors a chance to shine like wildfire. Ben Affleck has some great monologues and he really sells them (pun intended), so much that even we in the audience are convinced! Nicky Katz, as well as Scott Caan and especially Vin Diesel are also riveting as brokers, in a simultaneously hilarious and scary way, as they chew the scenery like they’ve been fasting for weeks! Giovanni Ribisi also makes a good impression, even though as the protagonist, he often has to tone down the intensity for down moments outside the firm. Some of those quieter scenes work, like Seth’s growing guilty conscience over a family man he talked into risking (and losing) all he had on some volatile stock, but other things like the bland romance with a black secretary are unnecessary and the subplot involving Seth’s father (“daddy’s bitch slap when I was ten made me do it”) is kind of weak.
“Boiler Room” grips you early, with its fascinating insights and Younger’s appropriation of hip hop music and his snappy, jump-cut-y visual style, and it hardly ever let go. The film is sort of an other-side-of-the-mirror “Fight Club”, with similar attitudes but completely opposite priorities, savage capitalism instead of nihilism. Truly a film to check out.