It's All in the Selling

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Seth Davis (Giovanni Ribisi) makesmoney the old-fashioned way: he has turned his university-dropout pad into a mini-casino, where he deals blackjack. It's a nice living, but not a lifestyle that offers much in the way of parental bragging rights. This is a matter of some moment to Seth's sour father (Ron Rifkin), a federal judge who has sentenced his son to life in the doghouse for his slacker ways.

What Seth needs in a hurry-that is, before he turns 30-is a Ferrari, a closetful of Armanis, a couple of mil-and, oh yes, respectability. That's where J.T. Marlin, the brokerage firm, comes in. O.K., it isn't exactly J.P. Morgan. It is, in fact, as the title of writer-director Ben Younger's morally earnest yet very lively first feature has it, a Boiler Room.

That is to say, it's a large, open, blue-lit space where dozens of young men, operating at the top of their lungs, sell disreputable stocks to people who mostly can't afford them. Phony pharmaceuticals are particular favorites, which compounds the moral squalor of the operation. In their off-hours the young hustlers watch Glengarry Glen Ross to learn the tricks of their trade and Wall Street to justify it. But they don't really need audio-visual education. Not when they have Jim Young so close at hand. He's their recruiter, mentor, goad and ideal. He's played by Ben Affleck, and the role may be the best thing Affleck has ever done-so abusive, yet so coldly glamorous in his amorality.

Seth gets good at the game under Jim's tutelage. By which we mean, of course, bad. But not irredeemable. Can that be a hint of remorse we see lurking in his eyes as he devastates the life savings and the marriage of an innocent wholesale grocer? Can that be a hint of relief we sense in him when the feds close in with their offer of immunity if he rats the whole place out? Yes, and yes again.

Director Younger is only 27, and possibly just a tad retro. If he were really on cynicism's cutting edge, wouldn't Seth have a dotcom and be frantically kiting an ipo? Maybe not. Maybe that's the sequel. In the meantime, we have this curiously intense, alertly principled, refreshingly uncynical movie to savor.