It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
“The Boost” is not simply about drugs. It is also about the hedonistic lifestyles of the 1980s, especially in go-go areas like the Los Angeles real estate market in which fortunes are won and squandered in a matter of months and there is unspeakable pressure to keep up appearances. The movie is a modern-day version of “Death of a Salesman,” with James Woods selling leveraged tax shelters. He’s out there on a smile, a shoeshine and a line of cocaine.
Woods is one of the most intense, unpredictable actors in the movies today. You watch his characters because they seem capable of exploding - not out of anger, but out of hurt, shame and low self-esteem. They’re wounded, but they fight back by being smarter than anyone else and using jokes and sarcasm to keep people at arm’s length.
That’s the case with Lenny, the guy he plays in this movie. He doesn’t care if you like him or not, just so long as you see that he has a big house, an expensive car and a wife so beautiful that - in his words - “How did she wind up with a runt like me?” As the movie opens, Lenny is calling names in the phone book to peddle some kind of half-baked “investment opportunity.” He meets a pleasant enough young prospect, invites him to dinner and then explodes halfway through the meal, all of his resentments pouring out. Lenny hurts. But one day he meets a kind, philosophical older man (Steven Hill) who hires him to come out to L.A. and sell tax shelters to people with windfall profits.
Lenny is an overnight success. All he needed was the veneer of respectability - the expensive suits, the Mercedes - to cover his desperation. He’s flying high. When he decides to invest in some cockamamie Mexican nightclub, his wife, Linda (Sean Young), cautions him that they are overextended. He doesn’t care. He’s rich and the money is pouring in and he’s invincible, and then Congress changes the tax laws and his business evaporates overnight.