Boiler Room (Ben Younger, 2000)
[originally posted 6Nov2000]
Yeah, Ben Affleck is in this movie, but who cares? Giovanni Ribisi and Vin Diesel once again show why they’re slowly replacing Affleck and perennial sidekick Matt Damon as the hottest young actors in Hollywood. Ben Younger cast this movie perfectly; unfortunately, that’s about the only thing he did right.
Younger’s auspicious debut focuses on Seth Davis (Ribisi, probably best known to most as “lightning boy” from a memorable X-Files episode), a college dropout running an illegal casino in his living room. Pressured by his father (Ron Rifkin), a supreme court justice, to stop his illegal activity, Seth is ripe for the plucking by his childhood friend Greg (Nicky Katt, now playing the hapless sub on Boston Public), who’s a senior broker at a chop-shop style stock brokerage. Davis finds out he’s very good at being a salesman, and while Greg turns a seemingly inexplicable cold eye to Seth, a rival senior broker, Chris (Diesel), takes Davis under his wing. Greg and Chris are the kinds of friends who are constantly on the edge of exploding into violence with constant putdowns; not surprising in a high-stress job like this.
The whole firm is run by Jim Young (Affleck) and his pal Michael (Thom Everett Scott), and it becomes obvious to Davis as time goes on that something fishy is happening, but he finds this out while realizing that he’s good at being fishy. This leads to an ethical crisis, and… well, see the movie.
Ribisi, Diesel, and the usually-laconic Scott deliver the goods here in the best of ways. Affleck is his usual self, and one wonders if he’ll ever play anything else. The ensemble cast—and despite the focus on Ribisi’s character, this is as much an ensemble movie as Glengarry Glen Ross or The Big Chill—is perfect, and many of the minor characters (Nia Long, Scott Caan, and the woefully-underutilized Jon Abrahams) deliver performances up to the same standard set by the big guns. But Younger takes a potentially explosive situation and, instead of focusing on the characters and their interactions through the whole movie, shoves that part of the dynamic to the back in the last half, opting instead for a stock plot. Perhaps Younger should have read King’s book; focusing on his characters instead of plotting things out would almost certainly have resulted in a much better film, since that first hour shows he really does have a grasp of what makes humans work. Still, it’s worth renting just to catch a few performances by stars who are definitely on their way to the top. ***