Boiler Room

Boiler Room is a new kind of triumph: never has a film been so successfully derivative. There is something to be said for movies that blend together the best parts of previous works to make something spellbinding. First-timer Ben Younger has written a script that borrows freely and openly from works such as Wall Street and Glengary Glen Ross but also works perfectly well on its own account. Other critics have gone to great lengths to point out that Boiler Room hardly brings anything new to the table and to a certain extent, I would have to agree with them. The odd thing is that this doesn’t turn out to be a vice for the movie, which is far and away the best 2000 release so far.

Seth (Giovanni Ribisi) is a 19 year-old college dropout who, much to his father’s chagrin, has started his own lucrative but illegal casino business. He’s a lazy kidlet who much prefers the easy buck to an honest day’s work, but after some prodding from his concerned family, he goes and gets a job at a small, off-Wall-Street brokerage named J.T. Marlon. There, he joins a bunch of young schmucks like himself, all looking to get filthy rich quickly. They undergo a group interview with a senior employee (Ben Affleck) who promises them that if they come to work for J.T. Marlon, they would make their first million dollars in their first three years, guaranteed.

Like all newbies, Seth has to start out as a broker’s assistant, making introductory phone calls and yelling “RECO!!!” at the top of his lungs every time he gets a customer who is ready to buy. Seth soon discovers that he is pretty gosh darn good at this job and his overseeing senior broker (Nicky Katt) soon gets jealous of his prodigious ability. A different broker (Vin Diesel) notices this conflict and takes Seth under his wing.

It doesn’t take long for Seth to figure out that something is definitely afoot. First, he walks in on a guy mysteriously shredding papers in the office after-hours. Then, he sees that the headquarters of one of J.T. Marlon’s hottest stocks is nothing but an abandoned building. Seth soon puts two and two together and figures out just how the people at J.T. Marlon are making all of that ridiculous money.

Boiler Room is furiously paced and amazingly involving. It bears more than a few resemblances to David Mamet’s similar Glengary Glen Ross, but the most noticable similarity is how well they are written. I’m not sure what this suggests about writer/director Ben Younger’s future — considering the influences, it could just be a fluke — but this particular script is marvelous. Whether the film’s portrayal of day traders is realistic is hard for an outsider like me to tell, but it’s irrelevant: the office environment in the movie is so involving, I was begging for more. The dialogue sparkles with energy, wit and suspense; even the understated interracial romance that develops between Seth and a secretary at J.T. Marlon is pitch-perfect.

The moral dilemma at the heart of the movie — Seth and his co-workers are making money by conning regular folks out of their life savings — is sort of obvious but riveting nonetheless. I was sure I knew the final outcome as soon as the actual conflict was revealed, but Boiler Room had a way of keeping me on my toes so I could never be sure. A subplot where Seth convinces a husband and a father to buy bogus stock with the money he’s been saving up to buy a home is heartbreaking without being manipulative.

Perhaps I’m overreacting to a gem after a typically abominable post-holiday season. I dunno. In my mind, what earns Boiler Room its grade is one simple fact: I was hoping it would never end.

-- Eugene Novikov

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