While reading about Martin Scorsese's upcoming movie The Wolf of Wall Street (opening Christmas) with Leonardo DiCaprio playing convicted stock swindler Jordan Belfort, I keep wondering, "Didn't I already see this movie?"
Yes. The 2000 movie Boiler Room was also based on Belfort's pump and dump business, too. In fact, I blogged a quick review of the movie in 2009 in response to the subprime crash:
So, I rented the 2000 movie. It's well worth seeing, as are so many movies that give you an inside view of some masculine institution.
A movie about the U.S. Marines, for instance, doesn't have to be terribly good to still be entertaining. There's just so much lore the screenwriter can crib. For example, there was a spat over "Jarhead," about a Marine in the First Gulf War, because the author of another memoir about that war pointed out that that a speech a colonel gives welcoming the Marines to the war zone was lifted nearly word for word from his book. Veteran screenwriter William Broyles ("Apollo 13") replied that that, sure, it's the same speech, but it's also the same speech Broyles heard from his colonel when he arrived in Vietnam in 1965. Marines don't let a good speech go to waste.
Similarly, it's fitting that the real life subprime peddlers at Ameriquest all watched "Boiler Room" because the crooked stockbrokers in "Boiler Room" all watch "Glengarry Glen Ross" and "Wall Street." They get together in the evening in one broker's giant empty house and watch "Wall Street" on the big TV and see who can do Michael Douglas's Gordon Gekko lines best.
High pressure salesmen watch movies about high pressure salesmen for pointers. The rest of us could use a refresher in the games they are playing on us. The chief reminder, of course, is that they persuade men to make dumb outlays of money by challenging their manhood.
"Boiler Room" has lots of great lines, although it's a little clunky overall. This is a very young writer-director's first movie (Ben Younger was 27 when it was released) and it shows.
The casting is a little off. I wonder if somebody told Ben Younger that for his lead, the conflicted college dropout who can't decide whether he wants the money or his soul back, he should get, "You know, what's-his-name, that young guy, the pale one with the really Italian-sounding name," but instead of getting Leonard DiCaprio, he got Giovanni Ribisi instead. (Of course, there are a lot of movies that could have gone from half empty to half full just by DiCaprio in the title role.)
Ribisi's quite good in the selling scenes, but he never sold me on the idea that he should be a Hollywood leading man -- he's too toad-like and his complexion resembles the singer's in My Bloody Valentine.
Ben Affleck has the Alec Baldwin in "Glengarry Glen Ross" role as the sales manager who gives motivational speeches. (Here's the Youtube clip of the "group job interview" -- language NSFW.) Affleck is a guy who has shown some talent as a director and screenwriter, and has had enough work done that he looks like a leading man, but he's not really quite good enough of an actor. He's fine here giving motivational soliloquies, but there's fifty guys who could have done them even better.
On second thought, that might be a little harsh. It's just that in general, you don't want to get into a head to head acting competition with Alec Baldwin.
Vin Diesel plays the one senior broker who is not a total jerk. I like Diesel, and I think he's a rather good actor when he's not talking (his control of his facial muscles is surprisingly delicate). But Diesel has some kind of speech impediment. I'm not sure exactly what it is -- some times it's a lisp, some times something else. But "Boiler Room" is the wrong movie for him: way too talky.
Here's a Youtube clip of him reeling in a client where his charisma is locked in uneasy conflict with his speech impediment. (The really odd thing about Vin Diesel is how much his facial expressions resemble those of Jerry Seinfeld.)
With DiCaprio starring, Martin Scorsese directing, and an extra $100,000 of script doctoring, "Boiler Room" would be one helluva movie.
So I left myself an out there -- if Wolf of Wall Street isn't good, it's because they didn't spend quite enough on script doctoring.