ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM
Review by Michael Jacobson
Director: Alex Gibney
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Studio: Magnolia Home Entertainment
Features: See Review
Length: 110 Minutes
Release Date: January 17, 2006
the difference between the Titanic and California?
least when the Titanic went down, the lights were on." - Kenneth
a tale is the story of Enron...comic and tragic, fraught with mystery and
intrigue, and a drama that may continue to play on for a long time.
It was a tome filled with greed, fraud, underhanded deals, larger than
life characters and countless victims. It
was the American Dream turned into a nightmare.
Enron's slogan was always "ask why", and people are still
might be an even more important question. Enron
was once considered one of the country's most admired and respected companies,
yet it was all sleight of hand. It had the illusion of something solid, but it was all a
balloon that kept getting air pumped into it.
And we all know what happens when you fill a balloon past the breaking
was started in the 80s by Ken Lay, and I'd certainly like to believe he began
the company with more noble aspirations than authoring the biggest corporate
scandal in our history. Lay, as
chairman, along with Jeff Skilling as CEO, were both savvy businessmen who knew
how to create and sell an image. I
guess they thought the image was the reality...at least for a little while.
The Smartest Guys in the Room is a compelling documentary that roots through the
history of how the dream went sour. It
wasn't overnight, and it wasn't by accident...dishonesty and corruption grew
from the seeds of avarice, and what was once a fruitful rose bush soon strangled
many with an out-of-control growth of thorns.
starting point was the idea of trading futures in energy as though it were a
commodity like corn or wheat. Profit
speculation drove the stock prices up. But
the profits didn't always follow. Yet
as long as the company appeared on paper to be way in the black, anything was
the possible became a frightening reality.
Dummy companies were created to hide Enron's losses.
Top executives found ways to have Enron do business with their own side
projects, making the company's elites millions.
Enron's floor became a Wall Street unto itself...they became less about
creating energy and more about creating trades.
creating artificial shortages in electricity in California, they began the
infamous rolling blackouts in that state and drove the price for power up.
They shut down power plants for "maintenance" for periods of
time, and even exported electricity out of state for better profits while people
in California went without power.
perhaps worst of all was the selling job Lay and Skilling did on their own
people, persuading them to invest their pensions in Enron while knowing the
bubble was about to break. They
were still offering the confident smile and calm reassurance to their employees
while secretly dumping their stocks. By
the time Enron collapsed, the top guys made off with hundreds of millions, while
their blue collar workers saw their 401(k)s wiped out as Enron stock plummeted
from over a hundred dollars a share to about nine cents.
ship went down, and a lot of people and businesses went with it.
Many of the nation's top banks were connected to the scandal, financing
Enron whilst likely knowing what the company was doing was fraudulent.
Arthur Andersen, which had been one of the most reputable accounting
firms around, became little more than the ton of shredded Enron documents seized
by the federal government. There
was at least one suicide. And soon,
Lay and Skilling will get their day in court, while still smiling and
steadfastly denying knowledge of any wrongdoing.
Alex Gibney does a pretty good job of explaining it all, and his best work is
when he just lets the incredible story unfold.
Like many young filmmakers, he can't resist being overly theatrical from
time to time. For instance, when
one describes Enron's business practices as a magic act, we have to watch a
magician as he pulls a rabbit from his hat.
Or the tale of one executive who liked to frequent strip clubs...we go to
such an establishment and get a banquet of naked ladies to peruse to illustrate
the point. The movie probably got
its R rating for that...there was no reason this couldn't have been a PG 13
movie. Far more people would have
far more people NEED to see it. There's
a fine line between wanting the government to keep its hands off of private
enterprise and the need to make sure that these businesses stay above board and
are held accountable if they knowingly commit fraud, cheat, or outright steal.
I don't know exactly where that line is, but I am sure of one thing:
wherever it is, Enron was firmly camped way over on the wrong side of it.
anamorphic transfer is certainly serviceable...most of the movie seems shot on
lower budgeted film stock, and of course there are bits of video, old film clips
and miscellaneous other pieces thrown in to serve the narrative (as with most
documentaries). Nothing wrong with
the way any of it plays out; it just doesn't ring out with the same quality as a
mega-bucks Hollywood production.
deal with the sound...it's mostly dialogue oriented, and thus requires little in
the way of dynamic range. Some of
the song choices are a little campy...for example, they play Dusty Springfield's
"Son of a Preacher Man" to illustrated that Ken Lay was...yes,
friends, the son of a preacher man. Not
much demand is placed on the rear stage, but for this kind of production, you
don't really miss it.
disc is loaded with terrific extras, starting with a solid commentary track from
writer/director Alex Gibney, who is generous and pleasant with his thoughts and
is a making-of featurette, a conversation with the authors of the book of the
same title Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, a Fireside Theatre presentation,
additional in-house Enron skits, a collection of Enron cartoons, and the
original articles from Fortune Magazine. You
can also look up and find out "Where Are They Now?" or access an index
of websites to keep you updated on the current events, plus peruse a trailer and
some other previews.