Greed Is Good Again

Wall Street's young hotshots spot themselves on the big screen

BY: Nick Paumgarten

 
Excerpted from The New York Observer.


"That was dead-on balls accurate."

An anonymous stockbroker offered this assessment outside a recent screening of the soon-to-be-released film "Boiler Room." But before he could elaborate, he was whisked away by his friends, who feared that as a veteran of a sleazy brokerage like the one depicted in the film, he was risking his ill-gotten riches and his hard-won employment at a legitimate firm by sharing his thoughts.

The movie premiered at the Sundance film festival on January 28 and will open in theaters on February 18. But the goons on the trading desks on Wall Street have been looking forward to it for some time. They want it to be their movie. They haven't had one since "Wall Street," and they need some new lines.

The audience at the midtown screening was full of brokers and traders. But most of them had never worked at a place like J.T. Marlin, "Boiler Room"'s fictional brokerage. They worked for established firms like Paine Webber and Lehman Brothers.

The goons on the trading desks want "Boiler Room" to be their movie. They haven't had one since "Wall Street," and they need some new lines.

J.T. Marlin is a bucket shop, a churn-and-burn operation just off the Long Island Expressway where 20-something brokers earn huge commissions by unloading crappy stock on gullible clients. They pump up the price, then dump their own shares, leaving customers with worthless stock. Think of the mob-run pump-and-dump outfit in "The Sopranos." Think of A.R. Baron, D.H. Blair, Whale Securities, or any number of obscure little firms that have run afoul of regulators in recent years. They are the bull market's underbelly, its raw, greedy essence. They are the real hustlers, without pretense.

Thirteen years have passed since Oliver Stone gave Wall Street its most memorable icon, Gordon Gekko, with all his op-ed-ready dictums about greed and lunch. Somehow, since then, a decade of stock mania has gone unnoticed by Hollywood. The culture at the center of the wealth-creation machine has escaped the mythmakers.

"Boiler Room," written and directed by first-time filmmaker Ben Younger, tells the story of Seth Davis, a young college dropout from Queens who goes to work for J.T. Marlin and experiences firsthand the crude sales tactics and lavish lifestyles of its sales force. Younger spent a year researching this world, then wrote his picture. It isn't going to win too many awards; it's simplistic, slapdash, and a little goofy. But it captures the swagger and the patter of the young obnoxious stock-hawkers perfectly.

There's a scene in the movie in which Seth, played by Giovanni Ribisi (the medic in "Saving Private Ryan"), visits the house of one of his new colleagues. The house is immense but unfurnished (with the exception of a tanning bed in the dining room). The traders are gathered in a spare room off the kitchen, watching "Wall Street" on a giant TV set. It's the famous "Lunch is for wimps" scene in Gordon Gekko's office. One by one, the brokers watching the movie--among them Ben Affleck and Vin Diesel--begin to recite the lines along with Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen. Then they chant along with the movie like a Greek chorus.

But "Boiler Room" has some new dictums for their real-life counterparts: "Don't pitch the bitch" (meaning, Never sell stock to women); "Act as if" (meaning, "Act as if you've got a nine-inch cock"); and selling stock is "the white-boy way of slinging crack rock" (meaning, It will make you rich fast).

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