First off, let me just say that being in my 20's, born and raised in New York probably doesn't hurt my view of this film in any way. In some ways, I probably not only like it a little more due to this history, but identify with the characters a little more also. This is not to say one has to be in their 20's or from New York to like this film, quite the contrary actually, it's a damn good movie.
Second, since this is the second movie in a row to have both Vin Diesel and Giovanni Ribisi in them, I'd like to make clear that I am not particularly a Vin Diesel fan. My dislike for him isn't as strong as some (probably because of this film), but I've never seen "Triple X" either. Just not my cup of tea. Giovanni Ribisi, though, is shaping up to be one of my generations great actors. "Boiler Room" is evidence of that. Ribisi is the star of the film and as a young actor, carries his duties and the film like an old school Hollywood veteran.
"Boiler Room" is the story of Seth Davis (Ribisi) and his attempt to rise through the ranks of the greedy world of the stock market because his father (Ron Rifkin doing an excellent job), a judge, doesn't approve of the back room Black Jack he's running out of his apartment to make money. Having started his casino to help him pay for bills while in school, it took off fast enough for Seth to decide to quit school and run the casino full time. One night, an old friend stops in with a business associate. Seth proceeds to take all of their money at Black Jack, and within a few days is being courted by JT Marlin, a quickly growing stock company unlike any of those found on Wall Street.
When Seth decides to take the job with JT Marlin in order to please his father, the game is afoot. "Boiler Room" isn't just about stock market companies with questionable methods, it's about trying to grow up in a society which decides a persons worth by their job title and net worth. It's about what it's like to spend one's life watching others get rich while you're not and having all of society act as if they are valued more than you are, just because they have money. It's about the all pervasiveness of greed and materialism and what it does to people, to families and communities.
The ensemble cast includes, Ribisi, Diesel, Nicky Katt, Jaime Kennedy, Nia Long, Scott Caan, Tom Everett Scott, and Ben Affleck in a hilarious, but small part. Vin Diesel plays Chris, a broker who takes Seth under his wing in order to show him the ropes of life at JT Marlin (and he's actually very good). Nicky Katt plays a deliciously despicable senior broker who's team Seth has to work on while dealing with a jealousy complex because he's started to date Nia Long's character, Katt's former girlfriend. Jaime Kennedy plays the old friend whose appearance at Seth's casino begins his lesson in fast money making cheap lives. Scott Caan plays a hot head broker, while Tom Everett Scott plays the owner and mastermind behind JT Marlin's success. Ben Affleck plays a senior member of the staff charged with hiring and coaching new brokers. His performance in the group interview scene ("yeah right," Seth says in the voice over, "it was more like a Hitler youth rally") not only steals the show, but gets some hilarious lines and the opportunity to sneer and smirk through a set of lines strongly reminiscent of "Glenn Gary, Glenn Ross" motivational speech. It may not come across as the strongest cast one could hope for, but they all pull off their parts beautifully and John Papsidera did a great job with the casting. These guys seem like the roles were written specifically for them.
On a side note, when "Boiler Room" was released in theaters I was working in a music store, and we started to get a lot of requests for the soundtrack. When it was originally released on DVD, another wave of requests came through. After seeing it, I understand why. If you're at all a fan of late eighties, early nineties hip-hop, the score by Angel is a gem. Unfortunately, the small film didn't have enough money to release a soundtrack, so you'll have to find the tracks individually. Classic De La Soul and other New York hip-hop are perfectly matched to this film and it's story of greed and corruption. On the DVD, there's a music only track with a commentary by Angel done through a computer, so her creativity doesn't just show up on the score and soundtrack itself, and her talent is evident in the degree to which the music is so complementary to the film and the story. I hope to hear more work from her in the future.
"Boiler Room" is like "Ocean's Eleven" without making the crooks look cool. It's slick, funny, gripping, extremely well written and acted, and just a whole lot of fun to watch. It's often compared to "Wall Street," but I have to say, I like this a lot more because there's a much more realistic feel to it. There's no Gordon Gecko here, no Charlie Sheen (thank God) over acting, and though "Wall Street" is the characters motivational film of choice and probably what they aspire to, this film is far superior because of the writing, the score, the performances, and the use of New York as a character itself. It's as if the city is constantly looming over them and somehow the thing pulling the strings behind their actions. And in a way it is. Seth being from Queens, the brokerage firm hiding out on Long Island, Manhattan is always there almost taunting them to come and play in the big sandbox, which is really all any of them want. They all just want a shot at the big time, to be taken seriously.
It's a really well made film and looks great for the minimal budget it had to contend with. If you're from New York or even harbor dreams of one day going there and making your fortune, "Boiler Room" should be required viewing. It's a great film, slick, funny, suspenseful, but still has an emotional core, and moral conscience. It's more complex than it initially seems because it's so well put together by writer/director Ben Younger. The quality of the film is actually somewhat shocking considering it's Younger's first time in the directors chair for a feature. Credit for the films realism has to be given to him though because he put in his time in one of New York's small stock companies which gave him the inspiration for the script.
Some credit should also go to New Line Cinema too, for taking a chance on a first time director and helping him secure such a good cast. They've got a small classic on their hands which probably won't ever have the audience that the likes of "Glenn Garry, Glenn Ross" has, but is a great film on it's own. If you haven't seen this one, give it a shot.