Director: Ben Younger
Writer: Ben Younger
Stars: Giovanni Ribisi, Vin Diesel, Nia Long, Ben Affleck
Release date: February 18th, 2000
Distributor: New Line Cinema
Running time: 120 minutes
2000 crime-drama Boiler Room is one of the most underappreciated and surprising features of the past century. Between its time of release and today, this crime-drama has become an instruction manual for crime, corruption, and excess on screen. There is now an extensive, and somewhat questionable, laundry list of features and TV shows discussing the same topics and banging the same drums. If you are afraid of reality’s slimey infrastructure, look away now! Though broken in parts, Boiler Room is a fearless, imposing monster convinced the strength of power will always outmatch the power of strength.
This game-changing crime-drama focuses on the confusing life of 19-year-old Queens College dropout Seth Davis in 1999. Seth runs an illegal, unlicensed casino in his cheap, rundown residence. Despite his financial success, he continually faces the bitter disappointment of his New York City Federal Judge father, Marty (Ron Rifkin). One day, as his narration describes as a “What if” moment, his cousin Adam (Jamie Kennedy) and his wealthy, charismatic work associate Greg (Nicky Katt) come over to try their luck. Greg’s work pitch to Seth pays off, with the youngster hurriedly joining Greg and Adam at brokerage firm J.T. Marlin. Based off the Long Island Expressway, the firm is the ultimate place for Seth to get rich or, at the very least, die trying.
Boiler Room, directed and written by newcomer (at the time) Ben Younger, is a cool, calm, and charming ode to cinema and society of future past. The narrative, though splintering off into several key traits, sticks alongside Seth throughout tumultuous highs and lows. By all means, Seth is a despicable individual. From the get-go, he would rather keep his illegal casino running rather than shutting it down to prevent his father’s immediate termination. In addition, his treatment of friends and family leaves much to be desired. From his point of view, his brother and mother barely register whilst his friends are reduced to co-workers/employees forced to bow down (figuratively, of course) after each shift.
However, Seth’s rise of prominence at J.T. Martin is handled with care and flair. The second third delivers some of 2000s crime-drama’s most thrilling and light-hearted sequences. Chris Varick (Vin Diesel), taking the phone from Seth mid-trade, sells one customer on the sale of his life. Varick, the wolf amongst sheepish employees, shows off his fanciful, albeit questionable, skills to the tune of thunderous applause. Seth’s story runs through a gauntlet of exposition before the better days kick in. Stock jargon, particularly describing the importance of the Series 7 exam, might fly over most people’s heads. Younger and co. never drown in stockbroker gobbledegook or any movie like Margin Call would offer up. Even the twist – Seth discovering the firm creates fake demand for the sale of speculative penny stocks from expired or fake companies – is a bit of a bummer. The ride is seemingly too fun to leave behind.
Younger’s focus on story and character follows a familiar, albeit lively, beat through its speedy 2-hour run-time. On paper, these protagonists are supervillains sucking people dry. On screen, they are simply overcompensating for a lack of depth for ambition. They are little more than get-rich-quick schmucks. Younger’s film, against all odds given our post-Global Financial Crisis perspective, allows you to care for everyone involved. Seth, entering a relationship with receptionist/Greg’s ex Abbie (Nia Long), puts his new-found confidence to good use. Of course, in true Ribisi fashion, looking and sounding like an easy target will put you directly in the firing line.
The fall – Abbie turning Seth in to protect her sick mother, his father’s involvement, Seth losing one client’s life savings – hits with brutal intensity. Ultimately, Boiler Room‘s final quarter draws multiple surprises out of its otherwise stock-standard characters. Its life-lesson schpiel takes swift turns away from what many crime-dramas would typically accelerate towards. The film, if anything, provides a look at the Ghosts of Hollywood Past, Present, and Future. Ribisi, stuck in conventional villain roles today, showcases his immense tenacity. Diesel, having taken on several meaty roles well before his Fast & Furious/Riddick successes, proves he is more than just a bald head and deep voice. Affleck, shows glimpses of the charismatic professional he is today. Meanwhile, Tom Everett Scott and Scott Caan have since risen and fallen similarly to Boiler Room‘s plot.
Boiler Room, though a small-scale corporate-espionage thriller, paved the way for everything from Knockaround Guys to The Wolf of Wall Street. Stuck between Leo’s Oscar-worthy black comedy and David Mamet’s esteemed creation Glengarry Glen Ross, Younger’s breakout feature, like many of its actors, is filled with potential and chutzpah but fails to connect with the masses.