Boiler Room doesn’t make you sweat

By Melissa Nance

Hearing about how an opener cold-calls a whale, remembering to always ABC and never pitch the bitch, was part of the attitude that set the tone of The Boiler Room.

Written and directed by Ben Younger, Boiler Room sees Seth Davis (Giovanni Ribisi), enter the New York brokerage firm JT Marlin and succumb to its intoxicating ideological power over the 20-something generation. Drawn into the seduction of making millions fast, the men of the boiler room use aggressive tactics to sell scam stocks and make millions in the process. Davis, a college drop-out, runs an illegal card house before being recruited into JT Marlin. The film follows his initiation into the firm and his success before reality hits and drags him down hard.

The Boiler Room is Younger’s first film after making the transition from politics to filmaking. At one point, Younger was recruited and experienced life in the boiler room for himself. He discovered a secret world of Generation X high on the fast track, high energy, and aggressive money-making that subsequently overdose their egos and their bank accounts. Younger saw the dangerous world of instant millionaires and scam brokerage firms as a world of indoctrination and propaganda with hidden rooms and secret language.

Both Younger and Davis describe their initial impressions of the boiler room as akin to a Hitler Youth Rally. The indoctrination begins immediately and the men become absorbed and blinded by the prospects of wealth and a sense of purpose and prestige t. Vin Diesel, Ben Affleck, Tom Everett Scott, Scott Caan, and Jamie Kennedy portray a group of men who need a sense of purpose and code imposed on them in order to define themselves as successful and fulfill the 20th century dream of fast money.

Is this the making of a good Hollywood film? Younger is successful in capturing the audience with the jumpy, fast camera shots. The loudness of the boiler room and the sweetness of the rip (the money made after each call) adds to the film, but the subplot is fragmented and a little cheesy.

Davis’ story evolves into a supposed emotional appeal between an isolated son and his restrained, uncommunicative father, who face the ultimate test in their relationship.

Younger tries to compare and contrast Davis’ success in the boiler room with his unsuccessful relationship with his father, a supreme court judge. Davis is unusually successful in the boiler room. He learns quickly from insider tips, has a kick-ass sales pitch, and feels great about finding a place where he belongs. His dad– already irritated that Davis will ruin his reputation through his illegal activities–blows him off and gives him none of the reassurance and love he desperately needs.

The problem is, of course, that Davis’ success means nothing in his dad’s eyes because it is morally dubious; his lack of moral glitter compounds their already harsh relationship. Younger credits Davis with being the only one with a peck of morality, and compares him nicely to the other boiler room boys and their shallow efforts to play the part of playboy millionaires. Yet he can’t figure out that being a scam artist is not the way to win his father’s approval. Did I mention his father was a judge?

Davis’ characterization falls apart towards the end of the movie, despite Ribisi’s solid performance. Younger seems to be trying to catch the issues of an entire generation in Davis’ character which results in too much disjointedness to make his character realistic. His emotional needs and inability to communicate with his father are too stereotyped, and there is no time to develop the complexities of their relationship with any depth. As a result, their interaction seems superficial and overdone.

Even so, Ribisi has a few moments of genuinely fine acting. In fact, many of the actors perform well and contribute to the persuasiveness of the action scenes. The boiler room boys were well cast and brought a genuine feel of authenticity to the characters who become absorbed into the firm.

The film opened with a quote from Notorious B.I.G., paralleling the rap scene with the boiler room–instant success and failure and a highpaced life of drugs, cars, connections and code. Diesel and Affleck are great establishing the highs of the boiler room boys lifestyle.

Overall, The Boiler Room is full of racist comments, sexist portrayals of women and men, and clichéd characters. Still, they are an integral part of Younger’s construction of the patriarchal economic world. Younger revamps the old boys club into the boiler room crowd and their desperate (and slightly pathetic) attempts to feel big and be successful. Younger brings an insecure version of Generation X and the wannabe gangsta’ crowd together in The Boiler Room.


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