March 9, 2000 -- This is a cautionary tale about get-rich-quick schemes, and a generation, to paraphrase George Will, that has confused acquisitiveness with achievement.
The story has to do with a young man, Seth Davis (played by Giovanni Ribisi of "Saving Private Ryan") who is trying desperately to live up to his father's (Judge Marty Davis, played by Ron Rifkin, "L.A. Confidential") expectations. He starts a small, illegal casino operation in his house, and has a pretty good business going, too, but his father finds out and condemns him.
Looking for a new way to make fast cash that is a little more respectable he stumbles upon a stockbroker's job that looks great, but is actually far less respectable and more criminal than the casino, which he continues to run by proxy. It is a classic case of "if it seems to be too good to be true, it is."
The brokerage firm is located in a remote area of Long Island. It recruits only young, inexperienced, desperate men hoping to get rich quick. They are first trained in telephone sales techniques. Then they get their stockbroker's licenses if they show an aptitude for sales. After an internship, they get to keep $2 for every share of stock they sell. They promise their customers fast, easy, high profits. They are moved by greed. They cater to the greed of their customers.
Davis suspects that something is going on here besides just selling stocks in medical companies. He begins to dig into the company's operations on his own and he discovers how the company manages to make such huge profits while paying its brokers so well. The climate of greed, however, seems to keep most of those in the company from seeing the truth.
One night a group of the young stockbrokers gathers at the home of one of their fellows to watch a movie: "Wallstreet." They have memorized every single line of dialogue in the movie. It is their guide to success: "Greed is good." They will say or do anything to get rich. Even when they do get rich, however, they have little to show for it. They stay in debt. Their victory over poverty is hollow. They have nothing to show for the lives they have ruined.
The young stockbrokers travel into Manhattan for a night on the town. They are out of place among the high rollers there and are put down for their rude, vulgar and insensitive behavior. Despite their wealth and success they still feel inferior. Their frustration sometimes boils over into violence.
These desperate, volatile young men who are under high pressure to succeed form a unique society. Director Ben Younger (who also wrote the screenplay) does a good job of fleshing out this society, these Yuppies of the Damned. Vin Diesel (of "Pitch Black"), who plays senior broker Chris Varick, is a hulking actor with a menacing screen presence and a cavernous bass voice. Watch this guy, he's going places. Ben Affleck plays another senior broker, Jim Young, who gives firey sales talks to underachieving junior brokers. Nia Long of "Stigmata" plays Abbie Halpert, an overpaid secretary who can't afford to leave the company. She gets caught in several bad situations at once. These are good portrayals of people under pressure.
Except for the relationship between Seth and his father, however, the side stories don't work as well as the main stories. The subplot involving one investor, for instance, seemed a little forced. The love story didn't really work all that well either, but the main story was strong enough to make up for these shortcomings. This film rates a B.
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