Boiler Room (2000)

reviewed by
Mac VerStandig

Boiler Room
3 and 1/2 Stars (Out of 4)
Reviewed by Mac VerStandig
February 20, 2000

---A copy of this review can be found at ---

Boiler Room, the first hardcore stock exchange film since 1988's Wall Street, is one of the most spellbinding thrillers in recent years. Two hours haven't moved so quickly since America was transfixed on a white Ford Bronco, the Los Angeles Freeway and a national hero with a gun to his head. (Speaking of which, why hasn't anyone bought the movie rights? Allison Janney would be the perfect Marcia Clark!)

Seth (Giovanni Ribisi) has dropped out of college and started a casino in his New York apartment complete with specialized house chips, porno magazines and foul language. He no longer needs a student loan check to make rent; portraits of Benjamin Franklin accumulate via this underground business. Seth's father (Ron Rifkin who is a dead ringer for Ed Harris 10 years down the road), a respected Judge, isn't totally blind to his son's doings and ultimately confronts him, sending an already rocky father-son relationship into pure turmoil.

Seth decides that the New York Stock Exchange, in essence the world's largest "legal" casino, is the place for him and takes a job at J. T. Marlin, a brokerage just outside of town- trying to impress his father. The firm is full of 20-something millionaires, over-stuffed rolodexes, expensive suits, fine Italian-leather chairs and sheer decadence. The money is so easy to make because the stocks being pitched don't exist. Yes, J. T. Marlin is a stock chop-shop, and like all fascinating scams, the FBI has its eyes fixated on this one and, more importantly, our protagonist.

The workaholic society portrayed is not unlike many modern-day war room businesses; Steve Jobs' and Bill Gates' empires closely resemble J. T. Marlin in their dedication to working more hours than exist in a normal day. In the beginning of the film, when you suspect little more than hard work and dedication has led to the abundance of wealth, you want to somehow enter the silver screen and become part of the culture. After all, Marlin's workers are guaranteed their first million within three years, the secretary makes $80,000 and last month's phone bill was a tad under the nonchalant $400,000 mark. But as things progress and you learn more and more about the poor folks who lose their money in the massive scam, a middle-class man named Harry Reynard (Taylor Nichols) in particular, you become more and more comfy in your seat and appreciate the distance between yourself and the screen.

The initially sexy appeal of J. T. Marlin is helped by Jim Young (Ben Affleck)'s pitch to new recruits. The so-called "group interview" is little more than his ruthless sales tactics at their best with the aid of several f-words and the re-assuring tagline "We don't hire brokers here. We train new ones." But future mottos prove less appealing, like a "don't pitch the bitch" anti-woman philosophy. Ultimately, when all rosy images are brushed away and Seth reflects on his casino, the truth is more evident than ever, "the illegal business I was running was the most legitimate thing I had going."

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