2000, R, 117 min. Directed by Ben Younger. Starring Ben Affleck, Bill Sage, Taylor Nichols, Jamie Kennedy, Ron Rifkin, Scott Caan, Nicky Katt, Nia Long, Vin Diesel, Giovanni Ribisi.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Feb. 18, 2000
“People that tell you that money is the root of all evil don't have any,” says the Boiler Room's power-talking recruiter Jim Young (Affleck), and that sentiment, debased though it may be, is at the heart of this remarkable debut feature by New Yorker Ben Younger. The boiler room of the title is at the Long Island brokerage firm of J.T. Marlin, a willfully shady enclave of young hustlers desperate to grab that quick 'n' easy first mil and bail before the Feds sniff trouble. It's here, in the windowless, stale-aired melee of cold-calling, power-suited, off-off-Wall Street hotshots that strangers' lives are ruined and the almighty buck bows to nada. Seth Davis (Ribisi), a nice Jewish boy from Queens, recent college dropout, and sometime illegal casino runner, finds that the boiler room at J.T. Marlin offers him what he's been looking for all his life: easy entrée to the fast track of Benjamins, girls, and most important, the respect of his father, a federal judge (Rifkin). Seduced by the lure of the good life, Seth is finessed into play by the firm's No. 2 Greg Feinstein (Austin resident Katt), a weasely, insecure mentor, and Chris (Vin Diesel), who much prefer to look the other way as NASD and SEC laws are broken on a minute-by-minute basis. Younger's film is a redemption story, of sorts -- bad boy gets worse then gets wise -- but the film is remarkable more for the hubris it demonstrates by infiltrating and exposing the cloistered, hypnotic world of the boiler room than for its occasionally sappy backstory (Ribisi's conflicts with Rifkin feel real enough, though, and one particular waterworks scene pulls nary a punch). According to the press notes and a recent New York Times article, Younger spent months interviewing ex- and current employees at a variety of New York-area boiler rooms, and the wealth of information he picked up is translated directly to the screen. Audience members may not be able to tell an IPO from an RIP going in, but they'll practically be able to mount their own boiler room shenanigans after the lights go up (should they feel the urge). As the film's moral center, Ribisi's hangdog mug serves him well -- he's less a bad kid than a kid so desperate to be good that he loses his emotional compass for a while. In fact, none of these twentysomething wheeler dealers are such evil cads, they're just temporarily blinded by all that green. As an indictment of millennial greed in a society where one in every 36 working Americans (according, again, to the film's press materials) is a millionaire, Boiler Room is tough stuff, recalling middleweight David Mamet at its best moments (there's much speechifying on the nature of Wall Street's “Greed is good” theorem). The film occasionally suffers from backstory problems -- apart from Seth, who are all these guys? -- but plows on relentlessly despite that. Not a bad debut for a kid from Queens who never even went to film school.