Boiler Room is a white-collar gangster film whose young, anything-for-a-buck stockbrokers see themselves as the bastard sons of Gordon Gekko and John Gotti. What they want is everything.
Writer-director Ben Younger brings the audience into this world via Seth Davis (Giovanni Ribisi), a 19-year-old college dropout who doesn’t lack brains or ambition. What he’s looking for is the right forum for his talents.
Seth has been running a casino out of his Queens home, and its success gets him an intriguing offer. An up-and-coming brokerage house recruits him as an entry-level trader. It’s an opportunity to get legitimately rich, which would please his demanding father (Ron Rifkin), a judge who’s unhappy with Seth’s unconventional career path.
What Seth comes to realize during the course of Boiler Room is that his gambling business was more honest than what takes place in the shiny new Long Island offices of J.T. Marlin. But first, Younger immerses him in a quick-buck world whose seductive training techniques are more Hitler Youth than Dale Carnegie.
Like most new recruits, Seth gets his introduction to the hard-sell via the company’s take-no-prisoners trainer, Michael (Ben Affleck at his snarky best), who sets the tone of submission and charts the course for their apprenticeship.
Soon, Seth becomes an indentured servant to the super-slick Greg (Nicky Katt), who is supposed to show this newbie the ropes until he’s paid his dues and passed his certification exam. There should be a bond between them, but the seed of competition is planted almost immediately when Greg realizes that Seth is smarter than most of his flunkies. The animosity grows when Seth begins dating Greg’s ex, Abby (Nia Long), the firm’s all-seeing, street-smart receptionist.
Seth’s real mentor turns out to be another trader, the flamboyant Chris (Vin Diesel), who treats "closing the deal" like a Shakespearean fusing the guilelessness of Romeo with the manipulative machinations of Iago.
Younger has set Boiler Room up as a sharp-edged morality tale. He establishes the tone with Seth’s wise-ass voiceover narration and hip-hop songs which celebrate gangsta life. But the overall effect of the film is diminished by two narrative threads: Seth’s convoluted desire to please his father, who steadfastly maintains an emotional distance; and the travails of his major client (Taylor Nichols). These humanizing factors become a distraction and give Seth’s internal moral dilemma convenient external motivators.
But overall, Ben Younger has made an assured and compelling film debut. Boiler Room portrays a subculture of well-dressed white-boy thugs, ruthless hucksters who sell worthless stock in the American dream. Let the buyer beware.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.