Boiler Room

Directed by Ben Younger
Starring: Giovanni Ribisi, Vin Diesel, Nia Long, Nicky Katt, Ron Rifkin, Ben Affleck.
MPAA Rating: R for strong language and some drug content.

Review by Matt Heffernan
February 20, 2000

On Friday, I enjoyed the first-ever Vin Diesel Double Feature Premiere. In 1997, Diesel was an unknown actor and filmmaker, with two short films under his belt. The next year, Steven Spielberg cast him in Saving Private Ryan (one of my top ten films of the 1990s), and he made an auspicious feature debut. Then he voiced the title role in the much-loved-but-little-seen animated film The Iron Giant. Now he comes back to the screen with two major films premiering on the same day. The first one I watched was Boiler Room, followed by his first starring feature: Pitch Black. In retrospect, I should have seen them in the opposite order.

Not all brokerage firms are on Wall Street. At JT Marlin, a bunch of young men are getting rich selling stock on Long Island. Seth (Giovanni Ribisi) has dropped out of college to run a casino in his basement, much to the dismay of his father, the judge (Ron Rifkin). Through his friend Adam (Jamie Kennedy), he finally get a respectable job as a trainee at JT Marlin. He and a group of other young men will spend the next three months learning the business, before they get their Series 7 certification for securities trading. The recruiter (Ben Affleck) promises them that if they stick through the low-paying training period, they could make their first million dollars in three years.

Seth soon finds out that he'll be learning about more than IPOs and P/E ratios. He is taught by his supervisor, Greg (Nicky Katt), to "bend" the truth while on the phone. These men in their early-to-mid twenties can all be 45-year-old family men to their customers. Seth finds he has a knack for it, and makes close friends with a senior broker (Vin Diesel) and Abby the secretary (Nia Long), whom he starts dating. All seems to be going well, until he starts to figure out how the firm can make so much money.

By covering such a controversial subject, it's easy to see why Boiler Room begins with its "work of fiction" disclaimer, instead of waiting until the end credits. Such "Boiler Rooms" (also called "Chop Shops") do exist. First-time writer/director Ben Younger obviously knows this world well, and creates a compelling, provocative film. It's the first really good film of 2000, which sort of puts it out of place in the typically dreadful late-winter timeframe. Younger is definitely one to watch, as is rising star Ribisi (also in Ryan), who gives an excellent performance in a big ensemble cast.

One of my favorite scenes in the film shows several of the young brokers watching a video of 1987's Wall Street. They have actually based their whole outlook on this film. I can only compare it to the references to the Godfather trilogy on "The Sopranos". These guys know every line by heart, and their whole self-image is based on the characters played by Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen. And that's what is so good about this film: it explains a group of people (who lie somewhere between those in The Godfather and Wall Street) with well-developed characters. The only problem with such a character study is the loss of a richer story. With so many characters, the plot has to be pulled out in the last 15 minutes. It works, but it could have been handled better.

If Younger can learn how to strike the balance between character development and plot, he should turn out to be a great filmmaker. Ribisi should go on to even more starring roles, and we know that Diesel has one now. For Part Two of the double feature, read my review of Pitch Black.

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Boiler Room (2000)

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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan