A computer programmer's dream job at a hot Portland-based firm turns nightmarish when he discovers his boss has a secret and ruthless means of dispatching anti-trust problems.
This movie is the fictional story of computer programming genius Milo Hoffman after graduating from Stanford and getting out into the competitive world of computer software. In his contemplation of where to begin his career, he is contacted by Gary Winston whose character is loosely based on Bill Gates. Winston is the CEO of a company called NURV, and they are on the brink of completing the global communication's system, Synapse. They need Hoffman to help them meet their launch date, so after much thought and with the full support of his girlfriend Alice, he accepts the job. Tragedy soon after strikes and Milo becomes suspicious of the company he has been wrapped up in. He learns that trusting anyone could be a mistake, and that nothing is as it seems.
After graduating from Stanford, two idealistic computer whiz kids who are best friends are offered jobs at NURV, a giant Portland company with a driven boss, Gary Winston, on the verge of a world-linking satellite communication system. With support from his girlfriend Alice, Milo takes the job; Teddy says no and continues work on a media compression program he wants to make available free. Winston takes a personal interest in Milo, whose genius can help NURV meet its launch date, and Milo responds with brilliance and long hours. When Teddy meets with tragedy and Winston's offhand remark makes Milo suspicious, he decides to investigate Winston and NURV. But, whom can he trust?
- Working with his three friends at their new software development company Skullbocks, Stanford graduate Milo Hoffman (Ryan Phillippe) is contacted by CEO Gary Winston (Tim Robbins) of NURV (Never Underestimate Radical Vision) for a very attractive programming position: a fat paycheck, an almost-unrestrained working environment, and extensive creative control over his work. Accepting Winston's offer, Hoffman and his girlfriend, Alice Poulson (Claire Forlani), move to NURV headquarters in Portland, Oregon.
Despite development of the flagship product (Synapse, a worldwide media distribution network) being well on schedule, Hoffman soon becomes suspicious of the excellent source code Winston personally provides to him, seemingly when needed most, while refusing to divulge the code's origin.
After his best friend, Teddy Chin (Yee Jee Tso), is murdered, Hoffman discovers that NURV is stealing the code they need from programmers around the world including Chin and then killing them to cover their tracks. Hoffman learns that not only does NURV employ an extensive surveillance system to observe and steal code, the company has infiltrated the Justice Department and most of the mainstream media. Even his girlfriend is a plant, an ex-con hired by the company to manipulate him.
While searching through a secret NURV database containing surveillance dossiers on employees, he finds that the company has information of a very personal nature about a friend and co-worker, Lisa Calighan (Rachel Leigh Cook). When he reveals to her that the company has this information, she agrees to help him expose NURV's crimes to the world. Coordinating with one of Hoffman's friends (Nate Dushku) from his old startup, they plan to use a local cable access station to hijack Synapse and broadcast their charges against NURV to the world. However, Calighan turns out to be a double agent, foils Hoffman's plan, and turns him over to Winston.
Hoffman had already confronted Poulson and convinced her to side with him against Winston and NURV. When it became clear that Hoffman had not succeeded, a backup plan is put into motion by Poulson, the fourth member of Skullbocks (Tygh Runyan), and the incorruptible internal security firm hired by NURV. As Winston prepares to kill Hoffman, the second team successfully usurps one of NURV's own work centers "Building 21" and transmits the incriminating evidence as well as the Synapse code. Winston and his entourage are publicly arrested for their crimes. After parting ways with the redeemed Poulson, Hoffman rejoins Skullbocks.