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Boiler Room Print E-mail
Tuesday, 11 July 2000

Boiler Room

New Line Home Video
MPAA rating: R
starring: Giovanni Ribisi, Nia Long, Ben Affleck, Vin Diesel, Tom Everett Scott, Ron Rifkin, Nicky Katt, Scott Caan, Jamie Kennedy, Taylor Nichols
release year: 2000
film rating: Four stars
sound/picture: Three stars
reviewed by: Bill Warren

"Boiler Room" is surprisingly good, considering that it really says nothing new, and is the work of a first-time feature director. The movie chugs energetically along, raising a few moral questions that it really doesn't bother to answer -- such as whether the intensely high-pressure telephone sales techniques central to the movie are only wrong under the circumstances shown. Screenwriter-director Ben Younger apparently is suggesting that they're perfectly ethical at other times; the end justifies the means. Few will agree.

But this highly dubious moral stance is reasonably well-hidden by the fun and games of the rest of the movie. Giovanni Ribisi plays Seth Davis, who tells us in his narration that he "just wanted in" to the level of society where he could make millions before he turns 30. So he chose "the white boy way of slinging crack rock -- I became a stockbroker." He's one of a dozen or two brokers and apprentices working at JT Marlin, young men who think they've got the world by the tail.

Three months earlier, Seth was a college dropout running a successful word-of-mouth casino out of his middle class house in suburban New York. His father Marty (Ron Rifkin), a judge, is unaware of how Seth is earning his living, but evidently Seth's been a trial to his family for a long time, and Marty is always contemptuous of him, sometimes fondly contemptuous, sometimes coldly contemptuous. And Seth always wants to show his father up while at the same time wanting to prove to his father he's a worthwhile person.

An old friend comes in to gamble, bringing with him a guy Seth's own age who wears Armani suits and drives a sports car. Seth wants to hit that level right now, and shows up at JT Marlin to audition for a job. Smooth Jim Young (Ben Affleck), who, we're told, could sell bubblegum in the lockjaw ward at Bellevue, gives a very David Mamet-like speech to the newcomers, and a dazzled Seth signs up.

"Boiler Room" follows his learning curve, as he's taught the jargon, how to land "whales" (potential big customers), how to work the phone like a musical instrument, and just where he is in the extremely hierarchical company: near the bottom. One of the hottest salesman is Greg (Nicky Katt), who may be Seth's patron, but who patronizes him every day. One reason he's always irked with Seth is that attractive JT Marlin receptionist Abby (Nia Long) has abruptly ended her relationship with Greg, and is clearly interested in Seth.

Another hotshot is Chris (Vin Diesel), a real showboat, who loves to demonstrate his brilliant techniques standing in the middle of the gigantic office space filled with men on phones (the "boiler room" of the title). Michael Brantley (Tom Everett Scott) is the rarely-seen head of the company, not much older than the guys in the boiler room.

It's an apt name -- the pressure and heat are intense, and the sales are like small explosions. Seth learns a good broker will make 700 calls a day, and learns the key phrase: Always Be Closing -- Telling's Not Selling. Never sell to women -- don't pitch the bitch. Almost everyone in the company adores two movies, "Glengarry Glen Ross" and "Wall Street" -- they can quote Gordon Gecko's most vivid lines, and dearly believe that greed is good.

Seth gets along with everyone (except Greg), including sleek, competitive Chris, bad-tempered Richie, Adam (Jamie Kennedy) and the others. He even makes a very good sale on his own, to pushover Harry Reynard (Taylor Nichols); this angers Greg, but Seth quickly gives him the credit, pleasing Michael, but hardly mollifying Greg.

However, it turns out office politics are far from Seth's worst problems at the company. One night he notices a curious sight: the SEC overseer for the company is shredding documents. In a building next door, Seth finds another boiler room, unpopulated, no desks or chairs, but full of telephones. And Michael has arranged this. What's going on?

If you're stock market savvy, you've figured it out already, if only because the movie is loosely based on a couple of real incidents.

Ribisi is well cast; not only does he look like he thinks he's smarter than he is, but his face has a perpetually slightly stunned expression, as if everything is moving faster than he can really deal with. Affleck has a great time replicating Alec Baldwin's persona from "Glengarry," and Vin Diesel looks as though his bottled-up energy is going to rip through his suits at any moment. Nia Long is very good in her somewhat thankless role -- mostly she's a pawn for the writer-director, but she makes Abby into a real character. Ron Rifkin plays Judge Davis as a harsh, judgmental (what else?) man who's so convinced of his eternal rightness that he can't even hear what his son has to say.

This is a well-packaged DVD, with "PC Friendly" extras. You can match scenes to pages from the script, or even print out the entire script, if you want to add it to your bookshelf. It's interesting to note that Seth's narration simply is not in the script as given here. In addition to the usual scene selections, languages and trailer, there are some deleted scenes, including a completely different ending. (The one they ended up with is much better; the original ending is cheaply ironic.) The rap-filled score by The Angel can be isolated.

There's a commentary track combining separately-recorded sessions with Ribisi and with director Younger and producer Jennifer Todd. Unfortunately, Ribisi tends to drone on, losing himself in theory, while Younger and Todd rarely comment on the scenes we're watching.

Technically, it's a fine job, with clean, clear sound and excellent cinematography by Enrique Chediak; the interior of the boiler room itself is always lit in a cold, blue light. Anne Stuhler's production design is realistic and even amusing at times, as when Seth visits the home of one of the higher-ups, only to find a vast mansion with almost no furniture other than a couple of big-screen TVs, a tanning bed and a couch.

Movies can take us places we haven't been, show us details of professions we've never encountered, and "Boiler Room" is exactly in this subgenre. It's an amusing, taut thriller with vivid characters and an interesting milieu. And it's lots of fun to watch.

If you like this movie you may also like; The Apartment, Glengarry Glen Ross, Wall Street

more details
sound format:
Dolby Digital 5.1
special features: "PC Friendly;" extras include filmographies, commentary track, and deleted scenes
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 36-Inch Sony XBR

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