Wednesday 1 June 2011

Movie Review: Boiler Room (2000)

Further proof that there is a sucker born every minute, Boiler Room takes a look at the modern-day snake-oil salesmen taking advantage of the suckers by peddling worthless stocks with empty promises of future riches.

College student Seth Davis (Giovanni Ribisi) is trying hard to impress his stern father (Ron Rifkin), but he is going about it the wrong way. Seth drops out of college and establishes an illegal but successful casino in his apartment, raking in money from fellow college kids looking for a good time.

Seth's entrepreneurial skills attract the attention of the shady stock-trading firm J.T. Marlin, and he is recruited as a trainee. Senior trader Greg (Nicky Katt) is appointed as Seth's mentor, while Chris (Vin Diesel) and Richie (Scott Caan) are among the other traders peddling shady stocks. Jim (Ben Affleck) is the motivator-in-chief, promising all the young recruits a life of unimaginable riches.

J.T. Marlin's phone-based business is sweet-talking naive investors into pouring their life's savings into useless stocks, and Seth becomes quite good at it. He also starts a relationship with the firm's secretary Abbie (Nia Long), who has just dumped Greg. But no matter what he does, Seth cannot get his father's approval, and eventually he wises up to the damage his salesmanship is causing, and the illegalities of the firm's business.

Boiler Room's premise is painted in vivid colours that dissolve under the mildest scrutiny. Can Seth really be the only person in the United States curious enough to notice the shuttered and abandoned offices of a supposed high-tech medical research company developing the next miracle drug? A scene that features a regulator shredding documents at night is underlined as proof of wrong-doing; a large but empty office filled with banks of phones on the floor is also supposed to hold evil intent. Neither the significance of the documents being shredded nor the purpose of the lonely phones are ever convincingly explained, and once again, Seth is the only one noticing.

Ben Affleck has a grand total of three scenes, as J.T. Marlin's in-house recruiter and morale booster. It looks like a good paycheck for about a day's worth of work, but Affleck does bring a testosterone-injected intensity to his cheesy rabble-rousing speeches.

Any reminder of the ease with which the combination of greed and gullibility can be exploited is useful, but Boiler Room otherwise brings little that is new to an old morality tale.

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