Did you ever see Glengarry Glen Ross?” quips a character at the start of Boiler Room, Ben Younger’s suitably wired tale of get-rich-quick antics at a New York brokerage firm. Think of the line as a pre-emptive strike; Boiler Room knows its reference points and admits them. Its inhabitants (amoral working-class white boys) have been trained by Hollywood, not Harvard. Glengarry Glen Ross is their instruction manual; Oliver Stone’s Wall Street their Bible. Study period over, they flog inflated stock to gullible investors at the end of the phone.
Before filming, first-time film-maker Younger spent a year studying the tricks of the stockbroker trade. It shows. From abrupt intro through to abbreviated ending, Boiler Room offers a crash-course in white-collar criminality. Our guide is Giovanni Ribisi’s callow new recruit, who is inducted into the programme by Ben Affleck’s one-man welcome committee and schooled in the dark arts by a bickering pair of mentors (Nicky Katt, Vin Diesel).
While these brokers have grown rich through bending the rules, Younger makes it clear that they’re foot-soldiers, salesmen, and not quite the real deal with their flash suits and shabby office off the Long Island Expressway. When they venture into Manhattan, the Ivy League gods at JP Morgan snicker at them from behind their hands.
Boiler Room moves at an amphetamine dash and its acting is as tight as a drum. It does, however, evolve into a rather stock morality play. How far would you go, Younger asks his viewer. Would you do what the boiler room boys do? To nudge us towards the correct response, he throws in a principled dad who becomes implicated in his son’s wrongdoing and a sad-sack investor who winds up losing his life savings. Both characters serve as a pointed way of reminding us who the film’s real victims are.
Neither, though, shook my prejudice that this whole brokerage lark is basically a case of clever greedy people ripping off stupid greedy people. Given the choice, I know which side of the fence I’d rather be.