Before there was “The Wolf of Wall Street,” the stock market film everyone remembers is “Wall Street” starring Michael Douglas as “Gordon Gekko.” In between is the little-remembered “Boiler Room.” It had a young and up-and-coming cast; it was restrained on many of the excesses that “The Wolf of Wall Street” focused on; but actually tried to develop its characters. It has Vin Diesel in his first big role after “Saving Private Ryan” (well, he did also voice “The Iron Giant”) and two of the ensemble cast from Tom Hanks’ wonderful “That Thing You Do!” (click here for my review). It’s coming back in cycle this month on the IFC network and you can easily find it without moving from the couch. Check it out.
(2000; 120 minutes; rated R; directed by Ben Younger and starring Giovanni Ribisi, Vin Diesel and Nia Long)
PLAYING THE GAME AND BEING PLAYED BY THE GAME
Maybe I was in a bad mood, but the first time I saw it, I didn’t fully appreciate the depth of “Boiler Room,” a 2000 film about a shady stock brokerage. I’m not a big fan of its headliner, Giovanni Ribisi, and so I didn’t give it the initial consideration it deserves. “Boiler Room” is well-written, tight and lets its acting do the talking – unlike “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which relies as much on shock scenes and f-bombs as the work of its actors.
Further, “Boiler Room” builds its characters to wonderful and serious scenes by not rushing it. This early patience makes it a better film but one you have to stick with to appreciate. Some of the best work is by Ribisi and Ron Rifkin, who plays his father, but not far behind is work by Vin Diesel and Nicky Katt, who play senior brokers. And, these are not individual efforts – my opinion of the excellent acting is how each interact with the other in scenes.
“Boiler Room” is essentially the story of Ribisi as “Seth Davis.” He’s a college drop-out who’s running an illegal casino out of his apartment. Ribisi is a disappointment to his father (Rifkin as “Marty Davis,” who is a prestigious federal court judge) and looking for a way to get rich. Ultimately, he wants to be “in” as in being in on the ground floor of the next big thing and then reap the rewards.
Through a casino customer, he becomes a stock broker trainee at a Long Island firm (about an hour away from Wall Street) and starts to learn the stock-selling trade. Although a bit of a schlep, he’s smart and dedicated and he begins to make his way up in the firm. He also begins a relationship with a secretary in firm (who is the former girlfriend of a senior broker). Along the way he is sometimes caught between the big-time egos of the senior brokers but, most importantly, begins to sense that all is not right with the firm.
Along the way it’s revealed that the feds are investigating the firm and they target Ribisi, who by this time has uncovered the reason everyone is making so much money at the firm – it’s a giant scam and the walls are about to come tumbling down. After getting his father involved, Ribisi cuts a deal with the feds and the authorities bring buses in to haul the brokers off to the pokey (a big different than the party buses they once took into Manhattan for a celebration).
I haven’t cared too much for Ribisi despite his stellar resume (“Saving Private Ryan,” etc.) since he tends to be a bit of a schnook and his whining can grate. However, he does a great job here (his whining is actually appropriate and well-done) projecting both the eagerness at first and ultimately the pure ethical humanity necessary for “Seth” to succeed on screen. His scene at the feds’ office with Rifkin caps a couple of encounters that should be used as teaching tools at acting schools. Good work here, Giovanni (as if you needed it from me). He was also in “Gone in Sixty Seconds,” “Public Enemies” and most recently in “Selma.”
The Emmy-nominated Rifkin is much better here than he was in “L.A. Confidential” (click here for my review) – and that’s good because he was so solid and effective in that award-winning film. His disappointment simply oozes out of him until Ribisi gets the stock trading job and quickly morphs into pride. He hits bottom after Ribisi’s arrest – but the scene between the two of them in the feds’ office is simply marvelous. Rifkin has also been in “The Negotiator” and on TV’s “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”
Diesel is in his fourth film here and it is a solid follow-up to his great work in “Saving Private Ryan.” He tries to come across as a business wolf in human form, but shows compassion and humanity that makes him closer to Ribisi than his competing sharks in the office. Diesel is smooth on screen and conveys his part perfectly. He has been the anchor in the “Fast and Furious” franchise.
Ben Affleck has the most curious role in the film. He plays company co-founder “Jim Young” and just has scenes where he verbally beats up on people – first as the rookies come in and later to whip them to greater profits. However, unlike the other co-founder, Affleck pops in an out of the film without much set-up. He looks here with his verbal barbs like he failed a screen test for “Glengarry Glen Ross.” Affleck has also been in “Smokin’ Aces” and was actually wonderful in “Dogma” with his friend Matt Damon (click here for my review).
Four other characters are worth mentioning:
- Nia Long is the female lead here (there’s no other with any appreciable screen time in this guy-fest) and she does a good job as “Abbie Halpert,” who is the firm’s secretary. It’s a bigger part than I expected from the character and she makes the most of every second. She has also been in “Big Momma’s House” and was in “The Single Mom’s Club” last year.
- I’m less enthralled with the work of Katt, but maybe it’s because his character is unlikable. He is competent, especially with the coldness and rage he carries. He has also been “Sin City” and “School of Rock.”
- Along with Ribisi, Tom Everett Scott is an alumnus (and headliner) from “That Thing You Do!” Scott as “Michael Brantley” is the co-founder and the primary owner of the firm. He’s smooth, but the character wasn’t given any chance of development, so he’s pretty much window dressing here. Scott was also in “An American Werewolf in Paris” and “Dead Man on Campus.”
- I’m always amused when a micro man such as Scott (5-foot-5) Caan is cast as a brawling tough guy. He doesn’t shine here as “Richie O’Flaherty” and combs his hair up for the scenes he does standing to look taller. He’s also been in the “Ocean’s” franchise (click here for my review of “Thirteen”) and on TV’s reprise of “Hawaii Five-O.”
The language in “Boiler Room” makes it a top-125 contender in the f-bomb derby (it has 153 and is tied with “Bad Boys II” down near the bottom of that list), but nowhere near Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which is No. 3 all time with 569 uses of the “f—“ word.
“Boiler Room” might have sold stocks on screen, but it didn’t sell many tickets at theaters. It was the No. 107 film of 2000 with $16.9 million in sales, according to Box Office Mojo, and, worldwide, it made $28.7 million on a $7 million budget. The No. 1 film of the year was “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” ($260 million), followed by Tom Hanks in “Cast Away” ($233.6 million). From 2000, I also reviewed the dark, disturbing “Panic” (unranked because it was first released on HBO – click here for my review) and the holiday winner “The Family Man” (No. 30 with $75.7 million – click here for my review).
Assorted film notes (via IMDb.com):
- The alternate ending to “Boiler Room” (available on the film’s DVD) has one of the clients going to the company office with a gun to extract revenge.
- Directly from IMDb.com: “Ratner’s, the famous Lower East Side restaurant Seth and his family eat dinner in, is also a restaurant that Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider stake out in The French Connection (1971).” I just reviewed “The French Connection” – click here to read it.
© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2015.
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