Film / Boiler Room

Boiler Room is a 2000 American drama film with elements of film noir, written and directed by Ben Younger, and starring Giovanni Ribisi, Vin Diesel, Nia Long, Ben Affleck, Nicky Katt, Scott Caan, Tom Everett Scott, Ron Rifkin and Jamie Kennedy.

The film takes a look at the world of "Boiler Room" (seedy, dishonorable, and often fraudulent) brokerage firms. The film centers on college dropout Seth Davis (Ribisi), a budding underground casino owner from Queens, New York, who gets a job at J.T. Marlin, a less-than-reputable brokerage firm. However at the time, Seth is totally unaware of the firm's criminal reputation. Davis' opposition to his disapproving father, a federal judge, drives the plot as Davis goes deeper into the operation at J.T. Marlin than he'd like, learning how the firm scams its clients. The company is a chop shop brokerage firm that runs a "pump and dump", using its brokers to create artificial demand in the stock of defunct companies by cold calling investors and selling them shares at prices set by the brokerage firm, which include a large commission to the brokers (up to three dollars a share for a penny stock). When the firm is done pumping the stock, the investors then have no one to sell their shares to in the market, and the price of the stock plummets.

This film was loosely inspired by the real-life criminality at the Stratton Oakmont brokerage firm, which later inspired the less fictionalized Leonardo DiCaprio film The Wolf of Wall Street.

The DVD release includes an alternate ending that implies a workplace massacre by one of the cheated clients.

This film provides examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Michael, who's quite affable while running a criminal brokerage firm.
  • Artistic License Law: At the end of the film, Seth browbeats Chris into signing a sell order for Harry Reynard so Reynard can make his money back. One BIG problem: all stock transactions have an SEC-mandated "settling" period of three days before the transaction becomes official. Since Seth knows the FBI is arriving within the hour and the FBI's first act upon arriving will be to freeze all transactions, the sell order would never go through in real life. It would be a completely meaningless gesture.
  • Awkward Father-Son Bonding Activity: Inverted. Seth attempts to have coffee with Marty, but it's Marty (the father) who quickly gets annoyed and leaves.
  • Bolivian Army Ending:
    • At the end, Seth manages to get out from under criminal prosecution by cooperating with the Feds, but the movie ends just as Federal agents storm J.T. Marlin after Seth walks out, leaving it ambiguous exactly what happened to Chris and the rest of the company, or if any of them got away.
    • There's an alternate take on this in the unused ending: Seth makes the same deal with the Feds and leaves the building when a customer whose money he stole pulls up in his car with and walks in with a concealed gun. He misses Seth himself, but it's not clear if he went on a shooting spree at J.T Marlin after their brief run-in.
  • Captain Ersatz: In-universe, J.T. Marlin has a similar-sounding name to the much bigger and more reputable J.P. Morgan. Lampshaded when some J.P. Morgan brokers have a confrontation with Seth and his coworkers.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: All of them.
  • Dinner and a Show: When Marty starts yelling at Seth and throwing Seth's custom poker chips at him.
  • Family Honor: Marty is constantly worried that his son's illegal living-room casino will endanger his own career as a federal judge. This is further exacerbated when Marty finds out that J.T. Marlin is actually a boiler room - it's using its brokers to artificially inflate the price of stocks of expired or fake companies (as well as speculative penny stocks) through bogus statements, in order to sell the cheaply purchased stock at a higher price. Once the operators of the scheme "dump" (aka sell) their overvalued shares, the price falls and the investors lose their money.
  • Heel Realization/My God, What Have I Done?/Not What I Signed On For: Seth checks around and not only discovers the stock he's selling is bogus, but J.T. Marlin has lined up other office space to use if/when they're busted.
  • The Informant: The FBI offer Seth federal immunity if he agrees to testify against J.T. Marlin once all the suspects are brought into court, and threaten to involve Marty in order to assure Seth's cooperation. Seth asserts that he will testify against the firm and provide strong evidence of their illegal practices, but only if his father is not dragged into the case. He and the agents come to an agreement on this, with Seth being kept overnight only to return to work the next day and make copies of investment files onto a floppy disk to use as evidence.
  • Jerk Ass: Greg, who is a prick to everyone who works for him, but especially to Seth who is dating his old girlfriend Abby.
  • Mars-and-Venus Gender Contrast: Greg explains to Seth that the firm never sells to women as they will constantly complain to and annoy the brokers over the stock's performance. Word of God (via the DVD commentary) states it's also because men are inherently bigger gamblers than women.
  • Meaningful Background Event: During the scene when Seth and Abby are talking in the car, you see the FBI agents pull up and start walking over (to arrest Seth) in the background quite a few minutes before it actually happens.
  • Misaimed Fandom: In-Universe. There's a scene where the company guys are having a party and watching Gordon Gekko's introduction from Wall Street, being such big fans that they start quoting the entire thing verbatim. Gekko is in fact a very corrupt stockbroker who would throw thousands of people on the street for profit and ultimately goes to jail for committing legal fraud. This might be justified, since the Boiler Room guys are knowingly scam artists themselves who project an honest image to the outside world.
  • Missed Him by That Much: In an alternate ending for the movie, a guy that Seth cheated out of his money goes to the J.T. Marlin offices with a gun to get his revenge. He pulls up in the parking lot just when Seth himself is about to leave the company for his own reasons, and they bump into each other without recognizing the other person.
  • Moral Myopia: In the end, Seth convinces Chris to "do one thing right" and sign a ticket sale making one schmuck client good by stealing from another anonymous buyer on the market.
  • New Era Speech: Jim Young's Establishing Character Moment is an introductory rant to the new trainees.
  • Nouveau Riche: When Seth visits Jim's uber-spendy Mansion, he finds it barely furnished, with a tanning bed filling the elegant dining room; Seth internally remarks that Jim obviously has no idea what to do with his expensive house.
  • Pet the Dog: During the group interview, a new recruit sits in Jim Young's seat. Young walks in and politely asks him to move. When another recruit calls the first one a dumbass, Young angrily orders the second guy out of the room, and offers his seat to the first guy.
  • Precision F-Strike: "Hey, Kid: GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!"
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Jim Young, the HR manager and one of the senior brokers, gives one to the trainees.
    Jim Young: Goddamn it, you fucking guys! I'm gonna keep this short, OK? You passed your Sevens a month ago. Seth's the only one that's opened the necessary 40 accounts for his team leader. When I was a junior broker, I did it in 26 days. Okay? You're not sending out press packets anymore. None of this "Debbie the Time-Life operator" bullshit. So get on the phones! It's time to get to work! Get off your ass! Move around! Motion creates emotion! I remember one time I had this guy call me up, wanted to pitch me. Right? Wanted to sell me stock, so I let him. I got every fucking rebuttal out of this guy, kept him on the phone for an hour and half. Towards the end, I started asking him buying questions like, "What's the firm minimum?" - that's a buying question. Right there, that guy's gotta take me down. It's not like I asked him "What's your 800 number?" - that's a fuck-off question. I was giving him a run, and he blew it, okay, to a question like, "What is the firm minimum?" - the answer is zero. You don't like the idea; don't pick up a single share. But this putz is telling me, you know, "Uh, 100 shares" - Wrong answer! No! You have to be closing all the time! And be aggressive. Learn how to push. Talk to them. Ask them questions. Ask them rhetorical questions! It doesn't matter. Anything. Just get a "yes" out of 'em! "If you're drowning and I throw you a life jacket, would you grab it? Yes! Good. Pick up 200 shares. I won't let you down." Ask them how they'd like to see 30, 40% returns. What are they gonna say: No? Fuck you? I don't wanna see those returns? [some of the trainees snicker] Stop laughing. It's not funny. If you can't learn how to close, you better start thinking about another career. And I am deadly serious about that - dead fucking serious! And have your rebuttals ready. A guy says call me tomorrow - bullshit! Somebody tells you that they got money problems about buying 200 shares is lying to you. You know what I say to them? I say: "Hey look, man. Tell me you don't like my firm. Tell me you don't like my idea. Tell me you don't like my fucking necktie. But don't tell me you can't put together 2,500 bucks." And there is no such thing as a no-sale call. A sale is made on every call you make. Either you sell the client some stock, or he sells you on a reason he can't. Either way, a sale is made. The only question is, who's gonna close? You or him? And be relentless. That's it. I'm done.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Early in the film, Seth and the gang watch a scene from Wall Street, complete with Chris and Michael acting out the parts.
    • Later, Greg specifically references Glengarry Glen Ross when training Seth. Ben Affleck's introductory rant to the new trainees is also an obvious send-up to Alec Baldwin's One-Scene Wonder in that film as a foul-mouthed real estate salesman.
  • Vanity License Plate: Greg the douchebag has a license plate that says "2 RIP", referring to the high commissions that the Marlin brokers are getting on their lousy stock deals.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: The film revolves entirely around Seth going to work at a brokerage firm (which he later finds out is in fact an illegal operation) to earn enough money to impress his Supreme Court Judge father Marty. It actually endangers his father's career when the FBI's Financial Crimes unit catches wind of it.
  • White Collar Crime: J.T. Marlin is actually a "chop shop" boiler room - it's using its brokers to artificially inflate the price of stocks of expired or fake companies (as well as speculative penny stocks) through bogus and misleading statements, in order to sell the cheaply purchased stock at a higher price. Once the operators of the scheme "dump" (aka sell) their overvalued shares, the price falls and the investors lose their money.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Seth, when he goes to work for J.T. Marlin.