Boiler Room

Boiler Room
Director: Ben Younger
Screenplay:Ben Younger
Stars: Giovanni Ribisi (Seth Davis), Nia Long (Abby), Ben Affleck (Jim Young), Vin Diesel(Chris), Tom Everett Scott (Michael), Ron Rifkin (Marty Davis), Nicky Katt (Greg), ScottCaan (Richie), Taylor Nichols (Harry)
MPAA Rating:R
Year of Release: 2000
Country: USA
Boiler Room Poster

Ben Younger's "Boiler Room" is about a small-time crook who tries to go legit, but ends upunwittingly becoming a big-time crook. It's a capitalistic cautionary tale about the dangers ofthe new American Dream in the era of "Who Wants to Be A Millionare" and Internet stocksgoing through the roof overnight: trying to get too rich too quick.

Giovanni Ribisi stars as Seth Davis, a college drop-out who runs a backdoor casino out of hisBrooklyn apartment. It's a small-time operation that is populated mostly by Brooklyn Collegestudents looking for something to do between classes. Seth runs it like a business, completewith employees and payroll, and although it is an illegal operation, the most damage it causesis perhaps enticing students to gamble away some of their tuition money.

Seth's father (Ron Rifkin), a tough-love New York judge, almost disowns his son because heis so ashamed of his under-the-table business practices. So, in an effort to please his father,Seth attempts to go legit by becoming a stock broker in a small, fiery firm called J.T. Marlin,which is hidden away in a business district on Long Island, an hour's drive from Wall Streetand the New York Stock Exchange (the first of many bad signs).

J.T. Marlin is populated almost exclusively by twenty-something hotshots who make far toomuch money. Their hedonistic lives are characterized as much by excess as they are byemptiness. The perfect symbol of their lifestyle is one character's enormous mansion that isalmost completely barren of furniture. He has the money to buy the house, but he has neitherthe time nor the inclination to turn it into a home.

All these young brokers drive Ferraris, wear $2,000 Italian suits, snort cocaine, and constantlyattempt to one-up each other in an endless parade of macho posing. The level of intensity isset early on when the head recruiter, Jim Young (Ben Affleck), delivers an obsenity-lacedspeech to the new recruits about how, if they work hard, they will become millionaires withinthree years working at J.T. Marlin. It's not that they will have the opportunity to becomemillionaires; they simply will.

What most of the brokers don't realize (probably because they don't want to realize it) is thatJ.T. Marlin's owner, Michael (Tom Everett Scott), is a crook who is using them to pushstocks for companies that don't exist. Their brokerage house is a complete sham, but it bringsthem millions of dollars. As they say, ignorance is bliss ... until the FBI gets involved.

The screenplay, by first-time writer/director Ben Younger, does an interesting job ofcontrasting two variations of the American Dream. The fast track at J.T. Marlin representsone variation, a kind of claw-your-way-to-the-top economic Darwinism in which those whowant the money seek it out and get it at all costs.

Of course, the realization of that American Dream involves the trampling of the old-fashionedAmerican Dream: work hard, save your money, and reap the benefits with time and patience.This lifestyle is represented by Harry (Taylor Nichols), an everyday Joe who is one of themany suckers to buy into the lies spun by J.T. Marlin through the brokers' high-pressuresales calls. Harry ends up investing his family's entire savings, thinking that he will become apart of that upper echelon. Of course, it crashes in on him because J.T. Marlin isn't selling theAmerican Dream. They sell a mirage that disappears when you get too close.

Writer/director Younger has a firm grasp of filmmaking techniques, and he keeps the paceconstantly hurtling forward, aided by visual tricks like jump cutting and a hip-hop-heavysoundtrack. The music seems out of place until you realize that the same hypermasculine,misogynistic attitude that fuels most urban music is the same gas in the engines of theseeager brokers. The music is a bridge between street crime and white-collar crime, and inYounger's vision, there is little difference because both destroy innocent people's lives.

"Boiler Room" does have its weaknesses, mostly notable the tortured father-son relationshipbetween Seth and his father. Essentially, one can boil down everything Seth does to a drivingdesire to please the father who constantly rejects him. This, I suppose, is intended to, at leastin some way, separate him from the other brokers, whose greed is purely self-serving. But, itis a labored subplot that resolves itself in all-too-neat fashion.

Younger is obviously well-versed in popular culture, and he realizes that other filmmakershave already tread much of this territory, most notably Oliver Stone in "Wall Street" (1987)and David Mamet in "Glengarry Glen Ross" (1992). Younger doesn't fake that he doesn'tknow this; in fact, he works both movies into his own film. One of the funniest and mosttelling scenes in the film involves a group of the young brokers drinking beer and watching"Wall Street" on video, quoting the dialogue line-for-line. After all, these twenty-somethingswere born and raised on television and movies, and one of the themes Younger brings outmost clearly is that the lives they live are pop-culture-infused fantasies. They all want to beMichael Douglas in "Wall Street," and it is this tunnel-vision ambition that blinds them to thecriminal reality of their situation.


Widescreen: 1.85:1
Anamorphic: Yes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround; Dolby 2.0Surround
Languages: English
Subtitles: English
Extras: Commentary by writer/director Ben Younger,producer JenniferTodd, star Giovanni Ribisi, and composer The Angel; Fivedeleted scenes,including an alternate ending; Isolated music score withcommentary by TheAngel; Original theatrical trailer; Cast and crewfilmographies; "Script toScreen": Screenplay and storyboards comparison with finalfilm (DVD-ROMonly); Complete "Boiler Room" web site (DVD-ROM only)
Distributor: New Line

Video: The anamorphic transfer in the film'soriginal theatricalaspect ratio of 1.85:1 is gorgeous. The image is nearlyflawless, with onlya few hints of dirt and a little grain, but no compressionartifacts. Colorsare deep and rich, and flesh tones appear natural (althoughmany scenes areshot with heavy color filters). Detail level is very highthroughout thefilm, even in the darkest areas of the frame. The transferalso handlescontrast well in the night scenes. Overall, a greattransfer, which issomething that has come to be expected from New Line.

Audio: This is a particularly bass-heavy soundtrackdue to theinfluence of hip hop music on the soundtrack. The 5.1 DolbyDigital surroundtrack is crystal clear and handles the bass very well. It'sdeep and solid,but never too overbearing. The rest of the soundtrack isrelegated mostly tothe front soundstage with few surround effects or imaging.Dialogue isalways clear, even in the loud, hectic office sequencesthat envelop theviewer in a barrage of shouting and shuffling papers.

Extras: Although "Boiler Room" was not releasedunder its "PlatinumSeries" banner, New Line has seen fit to equip this discwith a good set ofextras, starting with a nice commentary by writer/directorBen Younger,producer Jennifer Todd, star Giovanni Ribisi, and composerThe Angel(Younger and Todd were recorded in a session together,while Ribisi and TheAngel appear to have been recorded separately and editedin). Younger'scomments are by far the most interesting as he isparticularly candid aboutthe difficulties of being a first-time director. The discalso features anisolated soundtrack with commentary by The Angel, a femaleBritish musicianwho supplied the soundtrack. Some of the isolated music isworth listeningto (take note that the songs are not isolated, only themusical score), andThe Angel's commentary is sometimes quite fascinating,especially when shediscusses her musical influences (however, she uses someirritating vocaldistortions). Most of the deleted scenes (all but one ofwhich are presentedin anamorphic widescreen) are really extensions of scenesin the movie, withthe exception of the alternate ending that was wiselydropped because it isfar too self-consciously ironic in a film that already hasenough irony. Forthose who own a PC with a DVD-ROM player, the disc includesa very niceScript-to-Screen feature that allows you to read thescreenplay and look atstoryboards while also viewing the film. The DVD-ROMfeatures also includethe film's original web site (of course, if you use a Mac,you are, asusual, out of luck with these features).

©2000 James Kendrick

Overall Rating: (3)

James Kendrick

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