PARK CITY 2000 REVIEW: "Boiler Room" Offers Slick, Dick-Swinging Diversion
by Ray Pride
(indieWIRE/1.31.2000) — If I hadn’t seen “Goodfellas,” or maybe “Wall Street” or maybe “Glengarry Glen Ross,” I’d like “Boiler Room” a whole lot more.
Ben Younger‘s first feature — he had a short rejected by Sundance four years ago, he pointed out at Friday
night’s premiere — is the kind of slick entertainment that you can admire without truly liking. It’s a prolix
dick-swinging fable about one of the true scourges of our time–cold-call telemarketers. (It’s also about mooks
who want money who don’t deserve it.) Derivative yet effective, it evoked the same feeling in me as “The
Green Mile”– so much talent behind a film, and yet such modest returns.
Seth Davis (the always-charming Giovanni Ribisi) is the son of a federal judge (the marvelously furious Ron
Rifkin) who never got over the one time his father smacked him. Because this, he’s become a college dropout
running a casino out of his Long Island apartment. A broker who attends one of his backdoor card games lets
him in on the secret of J. T. Marlin, a brokerage that can make him rich if he’s enough of a hustler. Of course,
as the title has told us, the J. P. Morgan sound-alike is a scam.
Younger pulls an old-fashioned weasel by citing “Glengarry Glen Ross” in the dialogue, and having his
characters watching “Wall Street” at a party and chanting along with Oliver Stone’s dialogue. Yet the most
telling “homage” is the recurring voice-over, which rips along in the style of “Goodfellas”–here’s how I got
into this arcane world, here’s the members of my crew, here’s why I have to get out of it. And Rifkin’s
climactic speech to Seth is a blatant echo of Joseph Cotten in “Citizen Kane” recalling that a day hasn’t gone by
he hasn’t thought of a woman he once saw for only a second. It’s unfair to the actors that Seth’s motivation is
almost entirely attributed to this shred of back story about denied daddy-love.
Ben Affleck‘s role is straight out of the film of David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross,” a scarifier who’s
meant to put the wrath of God into his young charges. Sad to say, Ben Affleck is no Alec Baldwin. Where he
should be filled with malefic fire, he only seems pissed, like someone had taken a coffee mug off his desk.
The rest of the cast is uniformly good, particularly Ribisi as our set of eyes in the world of scams, and Ron
Rifkin as his approval-withholding federal judge father. Vin Diesel is good as one of the minor characters, a
shaved-head Elliott Gould in his intonation and affect.
“Anybody tells you money is the root of all evil doesn’t’ fucking have any” is a typical line, and the callow
young characters seem to have drawn their values and vitriol entirely from movies, whether “In the Company
of Men” or any rat-a-tat-tat Mamet. It’s a swell out for a filmmaker: I’m not derivative, but my characters live
in a world of values that are purchased, not felt. The constant, banal rap soundtrack fits that as well: Younger
presents his characters as classic wiggers: white suburban zeros who take on the swagger of the urban black
The casting is key to putting the whole thing over: as written, the characters are mostly undifferentiated, not
burdened by any story beyond their varied ethnicities. They’re just insecure, ill-educated monsters who want
to be rich. At Sundance, it’s inevitable that a film like this will suggest an analogy to the filmmaking world,
particularly after Seth’s last words, something like, “Now I have to find a job.” The admixture of rage and
charm is combustible in any profession. But then how do you live with yourself?