ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM
Documentary Film Review Rating: Just About Average ...
Perhaps a better subtitle for this documentary (and the book upon which it is based) would be, "The Greediest Guys in the Room." This is American capitalism at its worst. When a company like Enron can accumulate billions of dollars in revenue without having to prove where the money came from, you know there’s a problem. It’s a shameful look at how greed can override common sense and make people do horrendous things; one Enron executive killed himself in despair for what he’d done, while others pointed fingers at each other saying, "He’s to blame!" After the Enron debacle was uncovered, its stock plummeted, its billion dollar employee retirement plan (based on the company’s stock) vanished, and hundreds of jobs blew away.
The documentary takes an insider’s look at corporate mismanagement and bookkeeping oversights, but does so by looking into the lives of the men who built the company, specifically Jeffrey Skilling (CEO) and Kenneth Lay (President). The largest focus is on Skilling ...and for good reason. He’s the man with the "ideas." Initially all of these ideas sound great: taking advantage of the deregulation of California’s energy, controlling the flow of energy needs, developing web-based technologies in order to control energy-related ideas, etc. But when the need for more and more money gets thrown into the equation, all other priorities get thrown out the window. California’s rolling blackouts were a direct result of Enron’s manipulation of the State’s energy needs. By holding back power, Enron executives and day traders caused energy prices to soar, making many people instant millionaires. Enron seems unable to do any wrong. Its stock almost never drops. How can this be?
One woman, Bethany McLean (a Fortune Magazine contributor), begins to ask questions and digs into Enron’s seemingly impervious shell. She soon discovers accounting irregularities and something called the "Hypothetical Future Value" of the company’s stock. Whoa.
Living in California, I must say that I got pretty peeved watching something that cost me God knows how much in my own energy costs, and to learn that no one was asking to see accounting sheets from this powerful company. No one. Until Mrs. McLean started snooping around. I guess the big question to ask would be, "How much longer could Enron have stolen money from its shareholders and the people of California before getting caught?" It makes me shiver just thinking about it.
Although this is a great documentary because of the information it gives, its one big failing is that it’s a pretty bland topic. Alex Gibney (director) tries hard to give us a story about the men behind the math, but the film is really just about accounting and corporate greed; pretty bland material. And so the documentary itself can seem rather dull and uninviting. It’s just something to prepare yourself for if you’re expecting an energizing film.
No movie trailer available. Sooorrry!
Still, it’s great to see directors taking chances on such material and getting valuable news out to the common man. Hopefully, if an Enron-type company ever rises again, this movie’s message will be remembered and make people ask "Why?"