Welcome to the New American Dream.
New Line does it again with this interesting and innovative DVD of Boiler Room, the now-you-see-is-now-you-don't theatrical release that just may have captured the spirit of the late 1990s.
Boiler Room tells the story of Seth, a young twentysomething college dropout who is the son of a Federal Judge. After dropping out, Seth has taken to paying the bills by running an illegal gambling house out of his apartment. He believes he is living pretty high on the hog, until Greg walks into his card-shop one late night. Greg is living proof that there are bigger better things possible in this world, at least in terms of money. Greg convinces Seth to come into JT Marlin for an interview, which is conducted by Ben Affleck in a bit of a star turn. JT Marlin is a stockbroker house of less than perfect repute.
Throughout the duration of the film, Seth is busy trying to balance his intense desire to impress his father with his misperceived definition of success in the '90s (which is based completely on money). He is an essentially flawed character who captures the societal flaws in a nearly perfect way. He wants to do the right thing, but has an extraordinarily difficult time determining what that is. Seth says it best during the film when he concludes he has never really lacked in his work ethic, but rather has failed in his ethics of work.
Every now and then a movie comes along that years down the road will be seen as defining an era. Think Wall Street and the "Greed Decade." Boiler Room has the potential to become that movie for the bull market run of the last six years. Not that a film has to be about the stock market to define its era—far from it. This film happens to take place around the stock market, but is not completely defined by it. Instead, I think it does a fine job of capturing the spirit of today's get rich quick climate. The film could just as easily have been about a bunch of twentysomethings working for a new internet startup—only then there would be little to talk about, and there could be little in the way of moral corruption to give the story its theme.
The cast of Boiler Room does a very nice job, with Giovanni Ribisi (Saving Private Ryan, Mod Squad, TV's Friends) leading the way as Seth. Ribisi plays Seth as the smart, calm quiet type and pulls it off interestingly. There is only one moment with him on-screen that doesn't really work and that is when Seth confronts his father (Ron Rifkin, L.A Confidential, The Negotiator, TV's Falcon Crest) and becomes quite emotional in the process. The emotion seems a bit contrive and comes out of left field a bit. Frankly, the whole scene was not set up very well and I couldn't really discern where it was going, but fault for that scene may lay more directly at the feet or writer/director Ben Younger than Ribisi. Overall, I believed in Seth's ability to fit in, because Ribisi gives him the intelligent quizzical quiet look of someone who is constantly listening, learning and understanding that which surrounds him. He has the look and feel of a schemer. Know guys just like him.
Excellent performances are also turned in by Ben Affleck as a senior broker and recruiting specialist for the firm of JT Marlin. It is clear Affleck's character is modeled after Alec Baldwin's similar cameo in Glengarry Glen Ross, which is openly referred to in the film. Affleck gives one of the finest three and half minute monologues I have heard recently as he conducts a group interview with Seth's group of interviewees. That moment encapsulates all the film is about in more ways than one. Also excellent is Vin Diesel in his portrayal of Chris, the one senior broker who takes s shine to Seth and teaches him the ropes.
First time writer director Ben Younger makes some interesting choices in filming Boiler Room, most of which pay off handsomely. The most interesting of these choices is shooting the interior scenes of the brokerage firm through blue filters, giving the room an overly bright and tinted feel. This enhances the kinetic and hectic feel of the place and really helps draw you into the action. Overall this is a fine first effort from an interesting young first timer. I look forward to future projects from Younger, as should you.
The disc itself is what we have come to know as typical New Line. In other words, perfect. The video is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and the picture is beautiful. What else is new, right? New Line just nails the video on every single disc! I cannot tell you the last time I saw a less than perfect New Line offering, and quite frankly, I'm not sure one exists. Audio is available in two flavors, Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0—English only. The audio in 5.1 mode is pretty aggressive for a dialogue driven movie. Surrounds are used to outstanding effect, especially in the hustle and bustle of the brokerage telephone room, with action coming from all around you. English subtitles are also present, and while additional language or subtitles would be nice, they are not necessarily a requirement as far as I am concerned. If the tradeoff due to budget constraints is between all the terrific extras we see on this disc for additional language tracks, then screw 'em. I'll take the extras anytime.
In terms of extras, the disc includes two separate commentary tracks. The first includes comments from writer/director Ben Younger, producer Jennifer Todd, and Giovanni Ribisi. The second commentary track is combined with the isolated score and includes the comments of composer "The Angel." The comments of all concerned are informative and interesting with little tidbits of behind the scenes production information liberally sprinkled throughout. This may not be the funniest or most informative commentary track ever produced, but it is far from the worst, and its inclusion is certainly a welcome addition to this disc. This disc also includes exhaustive filmographies of all the principal actors and crew, a smattering of deleted scenes (including the original ending which I, frankly, preferred), and the original theatrical trailer.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I really have nothing bad to say about this production. Sure, there are a few scenes that don't really work, but it's not for a lack of trying. I think this is an admirable first effort from Younger and a very solid disc from New Line.
I know a few people that are not too far removed from this group of characters. I have read some reviews of this film that are critical of the characters, and their use of language or their anti-this or anti-that commentary. This is real life, people. People like these exist in the real world. Movies are meant to be a reflection of that real world, and it is this honesty that grabbed me and pulled me into the story. A sanitized version, sans cussing and some biased views about women or minorities, would have watered down the story, and it would have suffered as a result.
New Line, as usual, is acquitted of all charges. Ribisi is thanked for a solid performance. Affleck continues to refines his acting chops with star turn cameos, but ones that are well done. In short, all involved are acquitted and welcome to work together again in the future. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
• Commentary Track featuring Writer/Director Ben Younger, Giovanni Ribisi, Producer Jennifer Todd
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