Seth (Giovanni Ribisi) wants two things very badly. He wants to make a lot of money quickly, and he wants the respect of his father (Ron Rifkin), a federal judge. Seth drops out of college to run a highly profitable business. His entrepreneurship and work ethic are impeccable. But his line of business — a casino run out of his home — is not.
A casino customer tells him about a way to make a lot of money as a stockbroker. At a huge cattle call of an interview, Jim Young (Ben Affleck) promises that everyone who stays in their program will become a millionaire within three years, tossing the keys to his Ferrari on the table as proof. Seth signs up as a trainee at J.T. Marlin, a Long Island stock brokerage firm.
Seth quotes a rap song that says that to make money fast “you have to have a jump shot or sling crack,” and adds that for white boys, the equivalent of slinging crack is selling stock. And the stock he sells, like crack, provides a giddy, addictive high while it is destroying the victim’s finances, and more. Seth finds that it can destroy the seller as well as the buyer.
First time writer-director Ben Younger creates a realistically edgy world that runs on rap music and testosterone. Rival brokers taunt each other like Sharks and Jets in Armani suits. They spend money on huge toys and empty mansions, and watch a video of “Wall Street” together, reciting the lines along with Gordon Gekko. And their mantra is taken from “Glengarry Glen Ross:” “ABC-Always Be Closing.” Each sale is a victory in a war against loneliness and loserdom. They just want to win. They don’t care at what, as long as everyone else loses.
These are lonely, insecure, immature men. The ironically named Jim Young points out that at age 27 he is one of the oldest people in the firm. When Seth asks Chris why he still lives with his mother, Chris does not understand the question. They travel in packs and except for Seth we never see them with families or on dates. They’re like Long Island Lost Boys, in a perverse Never Neverland.
Seth is drawn to this world in part because the masculine leadership and approval makes up for his emotionally absent father. But he is unable to turn away from his growing awareness that something is wrong and that J.T. Marlin is far more corrupt than his casino operation.
This movie has one of the best scripts in many months. In one superb scene, Seth is so proud of his skill as a salesman that he coaches a telemarketer who calls to sell him a newspaper subscription. Younger has a fresh and clever take on things and his music video experience lends a raw, hyper, thrill-seeking tone to the movie. The young performers do very well, especially Vin Diesel as Chris and Nia Long as Seth’s love interest.
Parents should know that the primary reason for the R rating is very strong language, including racist, sexist, homophobic, and anti-semitic epithets. Characters smoke, drink, use drugs, and beat people up. Two characters have an affair, though nothing is shown. Families whose teens see this movie should talk about how moral choices are made, how consequences are evaluated, and how difficulties in family communication can affect behavior outside the family. They might want to check out the film’s website before seeing the movie, to familiarize themselves with terminology like IPO, cold call, and rip.