Enron-The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)

 “Defying the laws of financial gravity.”

The excellent documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room from director Alex Gibney is startling. The film follows the success story of this corporate giant through all the shady business dealings, the astronomical accounting scandals, its robber baron approach to the state of California’s economy, and ends with the stench of its dramatic collapse. Enron was at one point valued at 40 Billion dollars but it took just “24 days to go bankrupt.”

Through interviews with former employees and executives, taped conversations between Enron traders, footage from senate investigation hearings, and clips of corporate rallies, the film tracks the rise and fall of some incredibly greedy people who would stop at nothing–not even if it meant ruining California. Enron executives–Ken Lay, Jeffery Snelling, Andrew Fastow, Lou Pai (who cashed out and bailed before the company’s collapse) were prepared to go all the way to make billions and cover their dubious tracks along the way. They “stashed debt so investors couldn’t see it,” and their “mark-to-market” creative accounting techniques simply meant that they showed profits for hypothetical deals.

It’s amazing to see how so-called ‘respectable’ banking houses, Merrill Lynch for example, turned a blind eye to all this shenanigans. One brave whistleblower squeaked a voice of concern and was fired for his integrity. A young female reporter from Fortune Magazine dared write an article that Enron stock was overvalued, and suddenly she found herself in a meeting with Enron executives and her boss. Perhaps some of the most startling revelations come from Enron traders who act like juvenile technorobber barons as they hold California hostage to an on-and-off again energy supply.

In the end it all comes down to greed and ego–a powerful, destructive cocktail when combined with total amorality. As you watch this film, you will think “what were they thinking?” But then this evolves into “how did this happen and how did they get away with it?” The “corporate crime of the century” resulted in 2 Billion in pension plans disappearing while the greedy executives managed to sell their sinking stock months before Enron’s collapse. The DVD is loaded with extras– including commentary from Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind (the documentary is based on their book), deleted scenes, a behind-the scenes look, Enron skits, Enron advertising, a “where are they now” follow-up, a gallery of Enron cartoons, and Fortune magazine articles.

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