Wily college dropout joins pack of stock swindlers with the promise of making millions
The Bottom Line
Entertaining, but flawed, solid first effort by Ben Younger
The Full Review
First-time writer-director Ben Younger has created a thoroughly entertaining film in Boiler Room. It is with great reluctance, however, that I say this. For, I couldn’t help walking out of the theatre thinking I had just witnessed nothing more than a skillfully crafted rip-off of Wall Street (1987) and Glengarry Glen Ross (1992).
Boiler Room tells the story of 19-year old Seth Davis, played by Giovanni Ribisi (Saving Private Ryan, The Mod Squad), a college dropout who runs a successful, albeit illegal, gambling operation out of his Queens, N.Y. apartment. When Seth is presented with the opportunity to join a stock brokerage firm named JT Marlin, the lure of quick riches and the respect that this new “legit” job will enable him to earn with his father are too much for Seth to pass up. Seth’s sly intelligence and cool demeanor enable him to quickly rise to the top of his broker trainee class and to gain the affection of the firm’s receptionist, Abbie, played by Nia Long (Love Jones, Boyz N the Hood). Seth’s successful ways earn him the ire of his broker mentor, Greg Weinstein, played by Nicky Katt (The Limey, One True Thing) and the respect and friendship of fast-talking millionaire broker Chris Varick, played by Vin Diesel (Saving Private Ryan, Pitch Black). Ultimately, as Seth’s curiosity and conscience get the better of him, he begins to question his role in what amounts to nothing more than a well-run swindle that leaves his colleagues with millions and his customers with nothing.
The film’s script is tightly written and for the most part, Younger does a good job of drawing the audience in and allowing them to acquire a feel for the frenetic lifestyle of a J.T. Marlin broker. Younger accomplishes this by inundating the audience with in-your-face trading floor dialogue and by pumping up the action throughout the film with an energizing hip-hop soundtrack.
Younger also quite effectively exposes the seedy underworld of the “boiler room” stock business. He does this somewhat carelessly, however, by, at times, treading dangerously close to defaming the entire brokerage industry. In what is meant, perhaps, to be the most revealing and poignant moment of the film, Seth states, “I became involved with the white man’s equivalent of slinging crack rock. I became a stockbroker.” Did Younger really mean to imply that all stockbrokers are the moral equivalent of drug dealers? Probably not. But, Younger could have very easily placed the words “boiler room” in front of the word “stock broker” and Seth’s quote would have been just as powerful while carrying an entirely different meaning. Further, Younger completely botches the film’s only scene in which the audience is provided with a side-by-side comparison of legitimate brokers and their conniving boiler room counterparts. He chooses to portray the legit brokers with such cliched Wall Street pomposity and arrogance that the audience ends up despising J.P. Morgan more than J.T. Marlin.
The brightest part of Boiler Room is the film’s many fine acting performances. Giovanni Ribisi is superb in his role, as is Vin Diesel. Nicky Katt, who was so good as a down-to-earth hit man in The Limey, demonstrates terrific versatility as an actor by nailing his role as the self-important Greg Weinstein. Also convincing in their roles were Nia Long and Taylor Nichols (Barcelona) as the pathetic Harry Raynard, who life is shattered after succumbing to Seth’s stock selling prowess.
Ironically, it is one of the least inspiring performances of the film that seems to be receiving the most attention. Many of the professional critics have been raving about Ben Affleck‘s few moments of glory as J.T. Marlin’s hard-assed sales trainer. Younger, who was “tippn’ his hat to David Mamet” in the Ben Affleck scenes, claims “It’s Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. In barely three minutes of on-screen time in Glengarry, Alec Baldwin created one of the most memorable characters in recent movie history. He effortlessly humiliated and demoralized four highly capable career salesmen (played by Jack Lemon, Ed Harris, Al Pacino and Alan Arkin) with a single brief lecture. Affleck’s character on the other hand, who does nothing more than boast about his wealth to a room full of college dropouts, was less intimidating than a sorority pledgemaster.
By: Craig Ettinger
Scene in which several J.T. Marlin brokers recite lines from Wall Street as the movie plays on the T.V. in the background
Amusing scenes in which Seth interacts with his casino clients
Terrific scene in which Seth lands Harry Raynard
Amusing scene in which Seth outsells a salesman
Fine acting by Giovanni Ribisi, Vin Diesel, Nicky Katt, Nia Long, and Taylor Nichols
Younger steals several lines/phrases from Wall Street, including a scenes in which Greg says to Seth “buy yourself a new suit” (Bud Fox was told the same thing by his mentor, Gordon Gekko) and Affleck’s character uses the term “liquid” to describe his state of wealth (Gekko used the term “liquid” to describe to Bud Fox what it truly means to be wealthy)
A strenuous relationship between Seth and his father that seems contrived and frankly is not essential to the plot (unlike the realistic Bud and Carl Fox father/son relationship that is central to the plot in Wall Street)