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Film / Boiler Room

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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 he 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 unsuspecting 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 inspired by the real-life experience of Ben Younger, who had gone to a meeting with a friend at an actual boiler room. The friend, who drove a new sports car, claimed " work here for a year, make your million bucks, go to the Bahamas..." and suggested that Younger work there. The firm (which was busted a few years later) offered Younger a job, which he declined - choosing instead to write about it. [1]

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


This film provides examples of:

  • Adam Smith Hates Your Guts: J.T. Marlin overcharges on the fraudulent stock it sells, with the brokers getting a "rip" of two dollars for every share sold. While transaction fees are an industry norm, any investor should always look at how they're being assessed and if their broker is "churning" (overtrading on client accounts for the sake of more commissions). Overcharging clients for securities transactions is considered illegal, and the firm and its brokers would be sanctioned (including hefty fines and lifetime bans imposed by the SEC).
  • Affably Evil: Michael, who's quite affable while running a criminal brokerage firm.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: After finding out that Seth lied about J.T. Marlin, Marty asks him if he made his clients any real money or if he's actually stealing from them. Seth can only look down in shame.
  • Artistic License – Economics:
    • Greg tells Michael that he has clients who continue to trade with him despite taking huge losses. In reality, nobody would want to buy from a firm that sells shoddy products or services.
    • J.T. Marlin overcharges and overtrades on the fraudulent stock it sells to unsuspecting investors. This is viewed as unethical, and would result in hefty fines and possible bans from the securities industry.
    • At the end of the film, Seth browbeats Chris into signing a sell order for a client so he can make his money back. But there's one BIG problem: most securities transactions have a mandated "settling" period before they go live. Since Seth knows the FBI's first act upon arriving will be to halt all transactions, the sell order would never go through in real life. It would be a completely meaningless gesture.
    • Seth tells a client that CNBC put a buy reco on Farrow Tech. In reality, that would put CNBC in trouble as while they can talk about financial news, they are NOT broker-dealers and have no authority to recommend a certain stock.
  • Artistic License – Geography: Before the interview, Seth notices the guys at J.T. Marlin look like they're taking the 6 train to Fulton Street. In reality, the 6 train doesn't go to Fulton Street as it terminates at City Hall, one stop before. Riders wishing to stop at Fulton Street must take the 4 or 5 express trains along the Lexington Avenue Line.
  • Ask a Stupid Question...: Greg the prick asks Abby why she started dating Seth over him, only for her to tell him that it's his dickish behavior that caused their relationship to go sour.
  • 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 FBI agents storm J.T. Marlin minutes 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 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.
  • The Con: The "pump-and-dump" delayed wire scam is used here, as the J.T. Marlin brokers sell shares of phony companies via Too Good to Be True returns and fraudulent sales tactics.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: All of the J.T. Marlin brokers are Con Men. They're running a "pump-and-dump" stock scam, but project themselves as honest businessmen to outsiders.
  • Con Man: J.T. Marlin and its brokers are conning unsuspecting investors by selling fraudulent stock deals.
  • Cop/Criminal Family: Marty Davis is a federal judge with future political ambitions, but is embarrassed by his son Seth running an illegal casino from his dorm room. When Seth starts working for J.T. Marlin, which turns out to be a scam brokerage firm, the FBI use the potential destruction to his father's career to coerce Seth into going informant.
  • Dinner and a Show: When Marty starts yelling at Seth and throws his custom poker chips at him.
  • The Dog Bites Back: When Abby tells Greg off for the second time.
    Abby: Oh, honey - you were never hitting it. And he's not the reason, Greg... you are.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Jim Young's New Era Speech to the trainees.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Most of the J.T. Marlin brokers looked a bit stunned at Greg violently shoving Seth for arguing over who gets to keep the 40th account Seth just closed, aside from him dating Abby.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Greg the dickweed doesn't understand why his girlfriend Abby chose to start dating Seth over him. Not being a snobbish and arrogant Jerkass towards others doesn't register in his head.
  • Executive Excess: Subverted. The "businessmen" at J.T. Marlin are all professional scammers involved in a pump-and-dump scheme, and have made ridiculous amounts of cash, but don't really know how to spend it. When they get together after work at Greg's house, it's entirely empty except for a tanning bed and a flatscreen TV.
  • Family Honor: Marty is constantly worried that his son's illegal living-room casino will endanger his own career as a federal judge. It's further exacerbated when he finds out that J.T. Marlin is actually a "pump-and-dump" boiler room.
  • Fauxtastic Voyage: The "companies" promoted by J.T. Marlin use run-down buildings and fake returns to convince unwitting clients that they're legit. When Seth snoops around the "offices" of one such "company" and checks their records, he notices something is wrong.
  • Get Out!: Jim tells a rude job applicant off before the interview even starts.
    "Don't talk to me, don't look at me. Just pick your ass up out of that Italian leather chair and get the fuck out of my sight."
  • Going Postal: An alternate ending has Seth barely dodging becoming part of a (possible) massacre at the offices of J.T. Marlin by a pissed-off scammed client. For further irony, it's a client who got scammed by Seth.
  • Greed: Since most of the brokers at J.T. Marlin are Gordon Gekko wannabes, it really shows, as they're white collar crooks knowingly committing securities and investment fraud, and the lousy shares they're selling to unsuspecting investors are bogus. The scene where Seth watches his colleagues imitate Gekko while watching Wall Street also shows who they truly are. Greg even directly references the foul-mouthed real estate broker from Glengarry Glen Ross.
  • Hate Sink: Greg, as he's a snooty and condescending Jerkass towards not only Seth, but also towards his subordinates, Chris, and Abby at times.
  • Heel Realization: Seth slowly realizes that not only the stock he's selling is fraudulent, but J.T. Marlin has lined up other office space to use if/when they're busted, and its compliance officer is shredding documents to cover their illegal activities. It forces him to become The Informant in exchange for federal immunity.
  • Hide the Evidence: One scene shows J.T. Marlin's compliance officer shredding and altering records to hide their criminality.
  • I Have No Son!: Marty promptly disowns Seth after giving him a What the Hell, Hero? speech about the ugly truth of J.T. Marlin. This is eventually subverted when Seth decides to shut the firm for good by cooperating with the FBI and reconciling with his father.
  • Illegal Gambling Den: Before joining J.T. Marlin, Seth runs an underground casino from his dorm room. This worries his father, who fears it will endanger his own career as a federal judge.
  • The Informant: The FBI offers Seth federal immunity if he agrees to testify against J.T. Marlin once all the suspects are arrested, and threatens to involve Marty in order to assure Seth's cooperation. But Seth states he will only do so if his father is not dragged into the case. He and the agents come to an agreement on this, with Seth being kept overnight and allowed to return to work so he could make copies of his book of business onto a floppy disk to be used as evidence.
  • Jerkass: Most of the J.T. Marlin brokers can be jerks at times, but Greg tops the list. He's a rude prick to not only Seth, who was dating his girlfriend Abby, but also to his subordinates. He's also mean and condescending towards Chris and Abby at times.
  • Lonely Bachelor Pad: After work, a couple of the guys from J.T. Marlin all get together at the house of one of their senior brokers, which is a huge, almost completely empty domicile aside from a few pieces of furniture such as a tanning bed. Seth even asks one of his colleagues if the owner just moved in, but is informed that he's actually been living there for months and has no clue what to do of it.
  • The Mark: As J.T. Marlin is a "boiler room" committing micro-cap stock fraud, the victims are unsuspecting investors lured into Too Good to Be True returns via dishonest sales tactics. It's only a bit of snooping around, an earful from his father, and a lousy stock deal causes Seth to shut the firm down for good by cooperating with the FBI.
  • Mars-and-Venus Gender Contrast: Greg explains to Seth that the firm never sells to women as they will constantly nag 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 guys are having a party and watching Gordon Gekko's introduction from Wall Street, and being big fans of the guy, they start quoting the entire thing verbatim. Gekko is actually a very Corrupt Corporate Executive who would throw thousands of people on the street for profit and ultimately gets jailed for securities fraud. This is a Justified Trope as the Boiler Room guys are knowingly scammers themselves who project an honest image to outsiders.
  • Missed Him by That Much: In an alternate ending for the movie, the man that Seth cheated out of his money goes to the J.T. Marlin office 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 the firm on the market.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Besides realizing that J.T. Marlin is a "boiler room", Seth is horrified that he cheated a guy out of his money and family by selling him bogus shares. Ashamed of this, he decides to shut the firm down for good by cooperating with the FBI.
  • New Era Speech: Jim Young's Establishing Character Moment is an introductory rant to the new trainees.
  • Not What I Signed on For: Once Seth does a bit of snooping around and begins to realize that he cheated a guy out of his money and family by selling worthless shares and that the firm is not what it all seems to be, combined with getting an earful from his father regarding the dark secret of J.T. Marlin, he decides to shut the firm down for good by cooperating with the FBI.
  • 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.
  • No, You: When Greg asks Abby why she chose Seth over him, Abby tells that it was his Jerkass behavior that turned her off.
  • 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. The guy nervously apologizes and Young assures him it's fine. Then 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!"
    • Seth's father calls him a "piece of shit" once he finds out Seth lied to him about J.T. Marlin.
  • Pretender Diss: At one point, the J.T. Marlin stockbrokers run into a group from J.P. Morgan, who proceed to mock them for being small fish and not big players in the financial world. It's implied the J.P. Morgan brokers know something is wrong with J.T. Marlin.
  • "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 drown." 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.
    • Marty gives an earful to Seth after finding out that J.T. Marlin is a boiler room:
    Marty: Hey. I spoke to Howard Goldberg over at Prudential. You lied again, you unbelievable piece of shit. You lied to all of us. He told me about J.T. Marlin — it's a chop shop, Seth. You've been selling their shit all this time. How many people have you fucked over? Tell me, how many? All that bullshit about them wanting you to know how the business works. The great training program, remember? All the profits you made for your customers? Did you do anything for them, Seth? Tell me, did you make them any money at all? [Seth can only look down in shame] Oh god. I'm done with you, Seth. This is it. I've had it. I don't want to see you again. I don't want you to come to the house. I don't want you to call. This is worse than the casino, Seth. You've been stealing. Look at me. [Seth looks at him] You're destroying people's lives.
    [Marty scoffs and walks away in anger.]
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: At the end of the film, Seth tells Chris that he was arrested by the FBI, and was ratting everyone out. After angrily lashing out, Seth tells him to sign a slip that would allow Harry, one of his victims to get his money back, and to leave before the FBI raids the building. After taking care of business, Seth excuses himself to go to lunch, and as he's walking out, Chris can be seen quickly packing up any documentation on his desk that would incriminate him, and hightailing it out of there.
  • 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.
  • The Social Darwinist: In his introductory rant to the trainee brokers, Jim Young considers unmotivated salespersons to be pikers who "walk at the bell" and "want vacation time."
    Jim: Let me tell you what's required. You are required to work your fucking ass off at this firm. We want winners here, not pikers. A piker walks at the bell. A piker asks how much vacation time you get in the first year. Vacation time? People come and work at this firm for one reason: to become filthy rich. That's it. We're not here to make friends. We're not saving the fucking manatees here, guys. You want vacation time? Go teach third grade, public school.
  • Taking the Kids: One of Seth's victims invests his family's life savings on a worthless company, and after several heated arguments with his wife, she takes the kids and leaves him alone in their home. Once he realized the man lost all of his savings, Seth regrets his actions, and decides to scam the company and give the guy his money back, right before the Feds come in and arrest everyone. However, it would be meaningless as Seth knows the Feds will halt all transactions, meaning the sell order would never go through in real life.
  • Terminology Title:
    • Securities industry term for brokerage firms that specialize in defrauding unwitting customers.
    • There is another term for "Boiler Room", which is a room full of people that are selling pretty much anything. It doesn't have to be illegal, but it's generally considered a poor way to do business, as the people are "fuel for the boiler", and are used up and thrown away: the idea isn't to have a positive work environment, it's to get people that need money, squeeze any utility out of them, and then dump them when they're no longer useful.
  • Vanity License Plate: Greg the douchebag has one that says "2 RIP", referring to the exorbitant fees the Marlin brokers are getting on their lousy stock deals.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Boiler Room was inspired by the real-life rise and fall of Stratton Oakmont, which was under constant FBI scrutiny, and its owners being booked for securities fraud. Director Ben Younger also used elements of his interview at another boiler room that was busted around the same time.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: The J.T. Marlin brokers like to project themselves as honest businessmen, but are fraudsters in reality.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: The film revolves entirely around Seth going to work at a brokerage firm (which he later realizes is in fact an illegal operation) to earn enough money to impress his father Marty, who's a federal judge. It actually endangers his father's career when the FBI's Financial Crimes unit catches wind of it.
  • What Does She See in Him?: Greg the prick doesn't understand as to why Abby started dating Seth. His arrogance is what made the relationship go sour.
  • White-Collar Crime: J.T. Marlin is a "pump-and-dump" scam, where the price of stocks of expired or fake companies (as well as speculative penny and micro-cap stocks) are inflated through false statements. Once the operators of the scheme "dump" (aka sell) their overvalued but lousy shares, the price falls and the investors lose their money.
  • What If?: The final shot of the film, right before the Feds swoop in, has this monologue:
    Seth: I'm plagued by "what ifs" these days. What if Greg hadn't come over that night? What if I hadn't forgotten my bag... or seen Michael walk into the building that day? What if I had skipped over Harry's card? What are the chances? What are the odds? That's what I think about. Hey, I ran a casino. It's the next step I gotta figure out, 'cause I'm no lottery winner. I tried slinging crack rock, and I never had a jump shot. I gotta find a job.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Once Seth joins J.T. Marlin, he's unaware that it's actually a scam conning unsuspecting investors through a "pump-and-dump" operation. It's only when Seth does a bit of snooping around, gets an earful from his father regarding the dark and ugly truth behind J.T. Marlin, and after he cheated a guy out of his money and family by selling him bogus shares does he realize that he's been duped. Wracked with the guilt of cheating investors of their hard-earned money, Seth decides to shut the firm down for good by cooperating with the FBI.


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