Near the end of this fattened-calf period came Boiler Room, Ben Younger's surprisingly still relevant drama that both glamorized and criminalized the free-wheeling lifestyle of a group of sneaky New Jersey stock brokers at the fictional investment firm JT Marlin. Younger (who has unfortunately done little of significance since Boiler Room) was planning a career in politics until he accompanied a friend to a recruiting session (similar to the one lorded over by Ben Affleck in the film) and came up with an idea for his first screenplay.
In an interview for New York Magazine, Younger, then 27, explained: "I walked in and immediately realized, this is my movie. I mean, you see these kids and you know something is going on. I was expecting guys who went to Dartmouth, but they were all barely out of high school, sitting in a room playing Game Boys. I had already run a campaign at this point, but most of these kids were still working at the gas station," says Younger. "Now it's all over the news, but going back five years ago, day trading, the Internet, none of that existed."
And we were all on our way to early retirement with them, borrowing what we couldn't pay back and making risky investments in search of the highest short-term return we could possibly find. Unfortunately for us (and I loosely use the term; I've never had spare change to play around with), Boiler Room primed a generation of hungry brokers just waiting to hook us up with the "easy money". The dialogue from the movie appears to be ingrained in many of the people on the other end of our phone line, or so it would appear based on memorable quotes popping up in a mortgage broker forum I just happened across (from April of 2008, eerily titled "Lehman Brothers going down soon?").
But does a prescient movie make an underrated one? Not necessarily, but for also featuring a tense and believable screenplay and a remarkably talented young cast, Boiler Room rarely gets the respect it deserves. One of the cool things to do, for example, is criticize it as a rip-off of Wall Street or Glengarry Glen Ross. But on closer examination, with dialogue from those two classics deliberately used and obviously referenced (and in the case of Wall Street, actual clips of the movie shown), it would seem to me that Younger clearly knew his audience and acknowledged their influences. And based on the aforementioned fact that his dialogue is now being used by young brokers, I would argue that his material was plenty original.
One of the best scenes comes about halfway through Boiler Room, when Seth (Giovanni Ribisi) has finally gained enough confidence to shrewdly push a sale on a reluctant buyer (Taylor Nichols). It's uncomfortable and nauseating, mostly because we know how easily and often it happens every day. Observe:
Naturalistic conversations like this permeate the movie and are surprisingly well acted by an eclectic cast that includes Vin Diesel, Ben Affleck, Nicky Katt, Scott Caan, Nia Long, Jamie Kennedy, Ron Rifkin, Tom Everett Scott, and of course Ribisi. How his career has tanked so much in the last five years is a complete mystery to me - can you name his last movie? After a decent 2003 (Cold Mountain, Lost in Translation), he had a bizarre 2004 (Flight of the Phoenix, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow) and then...nothing - at least nothing worth mentioning. Hopefully, 2009 will mark a major return for this talented actor. He's currently attached to six projects on IMDb, two of which are among the most anticipated movies of this entire year: Michael Mann's Public Enemies and James Cameron's Avatar.
Ribisi never really blows you away with his acting, but the more you see his work the more you start to appreciate the small things, as is the case with this movie (i.e., the soundtrack). Of course there are missteps here and there, with a meandering father/son storyline and an unnecessarily heroic ending, but on balance Boiler Room is a taut and engaging film that deserves to be appreciated more in the context of our current economic climate.