Greetings all and sundry!
Having just completed a move from Suburban Maryland to more tax friendly, though a bit jumbled and busy, Falls Church, Virginia. I’ve allowed myself a few evenings of vegging out and catching up on the notable offerings from IFC (Independent Film Channel). In lieu of multiple series winding down to their last few episodes of their respective seasons.
Now, I enjoy cliffhangers as well as the next guy. Though given the opportunity to indulge in a little, highly polished glistening nugget featuring the Grand Master of Character Actors, Ed Harris. Then up and coming actor, Vince Vaughn. Creating two angles in a film full of angles, lies, distortions, half truths. And the allure of boundless wealth through telephone sales and the intrigue of The Long Con creating the third. With the aid of fetching, knowing Julia Ormond.
To that end. Allow me a few moments of your time to slowly peel back the layers of one of the more intricately executed explorations into the world of trust, varying degrees of intimidation. And even more subtle alterations of perception with.
The Prime Gig (2000)
Which begins in the rather decrepit expanded low rent apartment and Man Cave of Pendleton “Penny” Wise. An up and comer in the realm of grand dreams and intermittent talent regarding conning, cajoling and occasionally brow beating money from hapless names on printed lists. To sell questionable goods and services while slowly advancing up the always present Sales Board.
In a nutshell. All the props, bells and whistles reliant upon and present in a mid rage “Boiler Room’ operation.
And make no mistake about it. Mr. Wise, as presented and envisioned by Vince Vaughn is a go getter. Though sometimes indulging in slowly receding inner turmoil about such oddities as morals. And feeling bad at the end of the day after fleecing future college tuition and “Vegas” or “Vacation Money” totaling in the tens of thousands. Much better at it than his two low scale colleagues. Older, wiser, Gene (Wallace Shawn) and charismatic Joel (Rory Cochrane).
And at this moment in time, “Penny” unwittingly presents himself as an intriguing and vulnerable target for a much wiser and covertly admired and adored Master Telemarketer, and Guru, Kelly Grant. Magnificently played with equal amounts of bravura and “Aw, shucks!” congeniality by Master Craftsman, Ed Harris.
It seems that Kelly is slowly bouncing back from being taken to the cleaners by the Feds and the SEC. Meticulously doling out and gathering funds for another “clean and legitimate” operation. Involving the sales of parcels of land on and surrounding a gold mine in the whip sawn outback of Bisbee, Arizona.
Kelly’s approach is a thing of subtle beauty. Performed by Caitlin Carlson (Julia Ormond. Radiating just the right amount of business smarts and sexuality. Who catches Penny’s attention and reels him comfortably in. Before introductions are made with Mr. Grant.
Who has all his shiny brochures, spread sheets, graphs and pie charts ready for perusal after a sumptuous dinner. Laying his soul and his plan bare. While being glowingly, honestly forthright in his plans to make other people rich.
Though a veteran of the trenches and an outright cynic, Penny obliquely asks for some time to digest it all. Penny is given a day. And the availability of Caitlin as a Point of Contact. The day arrives and Penny agrees. Only to be one of a dozen different prospects and hungry Young Turks. With nationalities divergent as the rainbow. And names ranging from Archie (George Wendt), Cheryl (Jeannetta Arnette), Sujat (Shishir Kurup), Zeke (Romany Malko) and Batgirl (Amber Benson).
All are assembled pursuing the scent of large money. And the chance to get out from under college tuition and loan debt. Or the chance to make “crazy bank”. And spend it frivolously. Each has an agenda. And a scheme. Though, in order to harness and utilize maximum potential. They’ve got to believe!
Which entails a chartered plane flight and road trip west. To see first hand the expansive excavation, digging and tunneling surrounding several hundred acres of isolated Arizona Outback. And, yes. It is a busy little and noisy microcosm regaled in hard hats, reflective vests and large earth moving equipment. Wizened, if not refreshed. Penny and company return for marathon telephone sessions under the watchful eye of Kelly Grant up his elevated Sky Box Seat. Listening and ready to cut in with advice. As Penny, Zeke and Batgirl do battle. As those who lack sterner stuff eke out the day. And week. With the victors pitched banded rolls of fresh bills as incentive for the coming day.
A crude motivational tool, to be sure. Though it does light a fire under the bottoms of those ignored. To become bolder and progressively more brutal during their telephonic tete a tetes. Through it all, Penny is quite content and comfortable with his techniques, Especially when part of his reward is the lush Caitlin.
And it is the intrigue of their romance that adds well deserved meat to this tale of blatant and perhaps, covert duplicity. Since Caitlin is Kelly Grant’s woman. Even if there is some slack in her leash to allow outside diversions. As Penny makes more and more money, Much of which is put in a checking account. Gathering the wherewithal to possibly steal Caitlin away. Though, that will be on her terms. Not Penny’s.
Life is good. Life goes on. The coffers of Mr. Grant’s are full of other people’s money. Some of which is used to pay for the machinery and workers in Bisbee, Other monies are used to pay for lawyers, scientists and masses of their office staff.
Penny awakes and heads off the”office” for a another day of verbal battle and Blitzkrieg. Opening the door to find…..
I’ll leave it right there for spoiler’s sake.
Now. What Makes This Film Good?
A well constructed and often deliberately vague screenplay, story and script. That allows glimpses and some memorable longing gazes into what you don’t see behind a far flung, major con. Centered around the day to day machinations of the long lived and reliable Ponzi scheme. Demanding major investments from the naïve and monied middle class. Who are well off, or better. Just to keep what’s happening in Arizona solvent and perhaps, productive day after day.
Though, it is on the front lines where the depths of greed and avarice are dangled like bait. And Penny and his rogues gallery are allowed to shine. Most notably in the competitions between Penny and Zeke. Who sometimes seethes with racial angst and animus, That results in many closed deals.
Julia Ormond, in a very early role is a natural seductress. With class, poise, etiquette, a lovely Surrey accent. As well as being very easy on the eyes, Who may or may not know all of Kelly Grant’s grand scheme. But is not about to divulge any more than necessary. While Wallace Shawn, George Wendt and Rory Cochrane offer moral support to Penny. With hints of trepidation later on.
Cinematography by John A. Alonzo is often Sun hazed during outside daylight hours. And razor sharp and sparkled with far off lights at night. And wondrously, intimately tight in the Boiler Room’s Bullpens. Allowing time and space for the actors’ bodies and faces to swell with humor, anger or rage while achieving their goals.
Yet, offering a flat plain of space for discussions between Penny and Kelly Wise. An empty arena or battleground between two predators. Except Mr. Harris’ Kelly Grant has been doing this sort of things for decades. Dresses, acts and becomes the Master of Obfuscation, Misdirection and Distraction. Knows all the ins and outs and how to tap dance and patch over their flaws. While holding all the cards. The dialogue between the Sensei and gifted amateur is well worth the price of discovery and admission.
What Makes This Film Great?
Ed Harris in charge of a scam of his own making. Staying in the background. While wisely revealing enough to keep those around him interested and at his beck and call. Keeping the lion’s share of the nuts and bolts hidden under veils of distraction. And jovially warning Penny and others that “You can’t trust a con man!”.
Pulling those around him close in their desire for more. Money. Recognition. Defining, expensive wardrobes and wheels, Because in L.A. You are what you drive. Creating a multi act play in personal greed and self destruction. Well aided by an original soundtrack by David Robbins. Art Direction by Michael Atwell. And Set Decoration by Alice Baker. Who have a knack for making spacious office space and expansive Bull Pens appear much smaller and compact and low ceilinged than at first glance. Creating possibly the best definition of the phrase “Boiler Room” in film!
Agree. Disagree, Other Choices? The Floor Is Open For Discussion.