By Antonia Quirke
7 May 2000
The American hit Boiler Room has been made by a young man, and is about young men. It gazes at this huge, standing army and asks, what to do?
The film is less wretchedly about male motivation and fulfilment than, say, Neil LaBute's In the Company of Men - there isn't the same whiff of collusion between maker and subject. Instead, Boiler Room is bloody, rebellious, frank. Seth (Giovanni Ribisi) is a 19-year-old college drop-out who winds up a trainee in a dodgy brokerage firm. He is soon a qualified member of the frat house - one of a herd of aggressive young salesmen who sniff weakness with their snouts, and wear fat yellow ties, and cold-call and shriek and drink and manipulate their way towards their first million. Seth's a natural at the chat (using David Mamet's vicious Glengarry Glen Ross, and Oliver Stone's "Greed is right, Greed works!" Wall Street as manuals, as directives, as good advice) but has fluttering sensations of disorientation. Is this hell, or just Long Island?
Younger's film has one great moment. Seth visits the home of his hostile superior, the arch-recruiter Jim, a 27-year-old multi-millionaire (Ben Affleck). Jim's house is huge and empty, the wrapping still on the oven, the walls that shade of white a new house is for only about three months, before breath and the swishing of coats get to work. But Jim has been there for two years. It reminded me of the line in a film (I forget which, and this has been driving me mad all week) when a pimp is described as someone who "drives a Ferrari but lives in an attic room with a bar-heater". This Jim with his battle talk and vacant property is a pimp, and Affleck plays him with a stern hairdo.
But it's Ribisi who makes the film. You may remember him as the Red Cross man who died, panicked and smashed, in Saving Private Ryan. Ribisi has a green-about-the-gills paleness, and a face so perfectly heart-shaped that it's cartoonish. His laugh is unscathed and giggly, and his smallness rebel-intense.
Janice Beard: 45wpm needs the money she earns as a temp to cure her mother's agoraphobia. Sean (Rhys Ifans), apparently a dozy office post boy, is the industrial spy who targets her as the company weak spot, but turns out to have a weak spot for her himself. Janice (Eileen Walsh) owns a stuffed armadillo and is a bit of a Walter Mitty, which necessitates a depressing series of Ally McBeal-ish cutaways. She is supposed to be by turns peppy, daffy, moony, dippy, fluffy, kooky and feisty. In fact, she and the film throughout are gloopy, dreary, hammy, corny, wishy-washy, lousy, and about as fresh and innocent as a divorcÃ©e wearing a skinny-rib T-shirt which reads "Groovy Chick" in un-joined-up writing. This isn't a film, it's a Purple Ronnie card. If you try to mimic ingenuousness you just get disingenuousness. To stress your vulnerability by co-opting childish trappings, to pretend to be weak, isn't innocence, it's camp. Innocence is unfakeable, it is a quality great artists possess. Jean Renoir was innocent, even Orson Welles was innocent. With its primary colour-scheme, and cast playing people with half their IQs, the film is a zestless.
The title House refers both to bingo - Freddie Jones runs a bingo parlour which cannot compete with the hi-tech hall over the road - and to orphan Linda's (Kelly MacDonald) threatened home. The film is part-funded by the Arts Council and British Screen, which means Lottery money. Ninety-eight Lottery millions have been spent on British film, of which £6m has been recouped. Why? Because of timorous, safety-first choices like this. House has been sent out there to be like Peter Chelsom's Hear My Song, or an early Bill Forsyth - to be charming, because charm is supposedly a defining quality of our cinema. No such luck here. The camera keeps reminding us, as if it were a Butlins' Redcoat, of just how much fun we are having. Swooping and tracking, occasionally essaying speed-zooms - Whooosh! Then suddenly, we're in extreme close-up and slow-motion, to watch a pasta dish being prepared. Colossal penne tubes fall around us, resembling the bricks that would float about the Incredible Hulk in battle. This kind of camerawork, like the flashy doodling of a bebop saxophonist, is increasingly prevalent in British film. American indie directors wouldn't dream of it. None of it is really any fun. And fun, as John Lennon once sang, and Chris Smith ought to know, is the one thing that money can't buy.
Another British monstrosity - Circus. Brighton. Gangsters. John Hannah in linen. Christopher Biggins getting his ear bitten off. In southern Italy there used to be a folk dance called the tarantella. The dancers whirled never-endingly in a trance of perpetual motion: no one could get them to stop. Now the world dances the Tarantino. Even Loaded's patience must be wearing thin.
Seen back-to-back with The Long Good Friday, re-released this week, Circus is even more depressing. Originally made for television in 1980, The Long Good Friday was rescued, bad language and guts intact, by HandMade Films. Ah Hoskins. The final shot (which goes on and on) of his character, the crime boss Harold, speeding to his death in a Jaguar is the best work this actor has ever done - the munching set of the mouth, the weirdly girly eyelashes.
If you live in London, or are coming up this week, then please see Lacho Drom [Safe Journey] at the Barbican. It's a beautiful musical documentary/ode to Gypsies from northern India to Europe. In Claire Dolan Katrin Cartlidge plays a prostitute attempting to work off her debt to her pimp. The film is modern and uneasy, and the score exceptional. Cartlidge, ditto. The Last September looks at the end for the Anglo-Irish aristocracy, autumn 1920. The actors - Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Fiona Shaw - emerge clear and careful, and the film has such a fragile melancholy.
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AndTrick follows a 20-something gay musician trying to get-it-on with a go-go dancer. Flatmates, best friends and mothers get in the way. The downtown New York locations are heart-achingly romantic.
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