Seth (Giovanni Ribisi), the son of a stern federal judge, just can't seem to find a life in legitimate circles. He's figured out some ways of making money, but his father (Ron Rifkin) demands that his son pursue a career of greater import.
Seth takes heed when a childhood pal urges him to join a Long Island investment firm and become a stockbroker. But this firm is anything but stodgy and respectable. It's a "boiler room," a haven for hustlers who pry investment dollars from frightened burghers who feel left bypassed by the bull market. Even as Seth's fortunes begin to rise -- he gains status within the family, acquires a girlfriend and moves up in the firm -- he discovers that he's inherited a new set of problems.
Those difficulties involve moral choices, something Seth's never been very good at. By the time he figures out a thing or two about the true nature of his predicament, you may have raised some ethical questions of your own.
That this fast-paced, loud, aggressive movie can arouse our feelings is easily its highest accomplishment, especially since so much of it is shamelessly derived from two better films that covered the same ground: "Wall Street" and "Glengarry Glen Ross." (In a telling scene, Seth's colleagues lustily pay homage to the "greed is good" ethos of the former film's Gordon Gecko by mouthing his dialogue while watching the video.
Ribisi, a rising star of the hangdog school of acting (see also: Tobey Maguire, Christian Slater), plays Seth with a sweetheart innocence that conceals a hungry heart. Rifkin is stolid as his dad. Nia Long slyly interprets Abby, the self-serving secretary who falls for Seth. And in a backhanded nod to Alec Baldwin's slickly heartless character in "Glengarry Glen Ross," Ben Affleck plays Jim Young, the firm's rapacious sales manager.
First-time filmmaker Ben Younger makes no secret of cribbing from those other movies; he apparently feels his work is something of an update. ("Wall Street" was released in 1987; "Glengarry Glen Ross" opened in 1992, but the David Mamet play on which it was based premiered in the '80s). He may be right. "Boiler Room" resonates in today's wacko stock market as it never could have before, and the film's ear-thumping, rap-tinged score practically blasts immediacy from every scene.
Younger dresses his film with more quick cutting, high-volume dialogue and ethnic slurs than it needs, but his hard-edged view of humans caught in conflict has grit and verve. Even when you dislike or disagree with what's on the screen, you can hardly avert your eyes.
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