The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Boiler Room

One of my favorite things to stumble across on a DVD after all those pointless making of features and director/actor commentaries is the all-knowing, all powerful alternate ending.  Sometimes it's interesting to see what else a director thought about an ending, how they originally intended to shoot it.  Then, a studio can veto it, or a test audience doesn't like it, and a new ending is shot that hopefully will please the masses more.  As a member of the downbeat, surprise ending fan club, I'm all for those original endings that doesn't make everyone happy. I liked 2000's Boiler Room even if the actual ending disappointed.  The alternate, original ending? Much better and much darker.

Now as a fan of sports I can explain how to figure out a pitcher's ERA or WHIP, as a movie fan I can explain the aspect ratios or how the western changed from the silent era through the spaghetti western transformation to the folksy 1970s movies.  But I just can't wrap my head around big business, stock markets, and anything to do with inordinate amounts of monopoly money. Boiler Room deals with all three of those so a fair amount of the time I was quite a bit confused, but never enough to dislike the movie.  It can be too flashy, too stylish at times, but an interesting if not always clear story is aided by some strong performances from an underrated cast.

A college dropout with no interests in school, Seth Davis (Giovanni Ribisi) runs an illegal casino out of his home in New York City.  The money is flowing in, but it's only a matter of time before the authorities catch on and shut him down, sending him to the slammer.  His judge father (Ron Rifkin) disapproves and is about to completely cut ties with his son when Seth is approached by an old friend (Jaime Kennedy) who works at an investment firm as a broker.  Seth gets a job as a trainee at the high stakes firm, JT Marlin, and quickly rises through the ranks under his boss Greg (Nicky Katt).  But right on the verge of hitting the big time where he can bring in accounts of his own, Seth starts to smell a rat.  Things just aren't adding up as the unexplainable amounts of money start to roll in, and customers start complaining.  What should he do though? Shut up and go along for the ride, or blow the whistle and take everyone down with him?

As someone who would need a "Dummy's Guide to Business," I'll freely admit that much of the movie that really delves into business, rips, stocks, the market, went over my head.  I tried to keep up as best I could, but never really had a complete grasp of what's going on.  I was never completely baffled at the goings on, but I've got to point that out.  Maybe some business majors would keep up better than me, who knows?  Saying that, the firm's owner (Tom Everett Scott) is up to some shady dealings that just don't make a lot of sense to me.  Wouldn't the SEC, the FBI, and the government have caught on to these guys long before Seth shows up?  How have they managed to keep up this scam all this time?  Plot holes for sure, but the story does it's best to move along at a lightning pace past those holes.

The biggest challenge director Ben Younger has working against him is that his characters are basically the biggest assholes you've ever met.  They are arrogant, homophobic, loud for the sake of being loud, passive aggressive, maniacally greedy, violent, and they'd stab their mother in the back if it earned them some extra dollars.  I thought I was in trouble after the opening scene because with barely any introduction at all to these guys (all the brokers are male), I H-A-T-E-D them.  They are presented as the type of guys you wouldn't bat an eye at before kicking them in the crotch.  Thankfully, Younger offers at least a few glimpses of humanity in them, especially action star Vin Diesel as Chris, Seth's mentor but not his boss, proving once again he can act no matter how bad his movie selections of late have been.  Nia Long plays Abbie, a secretary at the firm who starts seeing Seth and gets caught up in something bigger than she ever figured.  Also look for Scott Caan as the ultimate type-A personality broker, the one you'd like to punch if you got a chance, and Ben Affleck as the firm's top recruiter who uses 'fuck' as a noun, adjective, verb and a lot more.

Through the good and the bad we see two main characters separate themselves from the pack, Ribisi's Seth and Katt's Greg.  Seth quickly realizes how good he is at basically lying to anyone and everyone, but even as he does it knows he's not exactly on the straight and narrow with his new career choice.  Ribisi is a phenomenal actor who I wish would do more mainstream roles, and his lead performance is the highlight of the movie.  At times vulnerable and others ultra-sensitive, he's the heart of the movie, and despite his flaws I found myself rooting for him, especially to mend the strained relationship with his father.  Greg on the other hand is basically evil incarnate.  He's well-dressed, charming, and looks like a gentleman but bubbling just below the surface is a seething, possibly lunatic of a man.  He's smooth in his badness, producing this great villain capable of violence and outbursts that catch everyone by surprise.

Then there's the ending, which works in terms of Seth's character and the identity he develops, but it left me feeling empty.  It's the right choice for the character, but that's about it.  SPOILERS STOP READING SPOILERS  You want to see the brokers get taken down at JT Marlin, especially Greg and Scott's boss man.  We never get to see that process though.  On to the original ending Younger intended for, wrapping up a subplot between Seth and one of his "accounts," a family man (Taylor Nichols) who ends up entrusting all his money to Seth in a money scam.  Like the ending in the movie as is, it doesn't show anything, leaving the viewer to wrap things up for themselves, but it works much better.  There's a touch of irony thrown in, and a strong element of shock and surprise, maybe more so because we don't see the end result.  I still liked the movie, but it could have been a notch higher if the original ending was left in untouched.

Boiler Room <---trailer (2000): ***/****

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