ENRON: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)

by | Jan 15, 2006 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

ENRON: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)

Directed by: Alex Gibney
Narration: Peter Coyote
Studio: Magnolia Home Entertainment
Video: 1.78:1 enhanced for 16:9 widescreen, color
Audio: Dolby Digital stereo
Extras: Commentary by writer/director; Deleted scenes; “The Making of Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room;” Conversations with the authors of the book, Firesign Theatre presents “The Fall of Enron;” Additional Enron skits; “Higher Definition:” The Enron Show; Where Are They Now?; Gallery of Enron cartoons; The original FORTUNE magazine articles, Index of web sites with latest information
Length: 110 minutes
Rating: ****

I must agree with Roger Ebert who said he never really understood Enron until he saw this documentary. Gibney talks in the Making Of featurette about how he  had no plans to shoot a film on the subject, thinking it would be an impossible bore to do a film about an accounting scandal. Then he read the book by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind and immediately wanted to do this film. He saw that it involved a great deal more than having to show boring numbers on the screen. It dealt with the personalities of the several top Enron execs and the moral vacuum that they encouraged as a corporate goal. As McLean – who also did the first Fortune magazine article questioning Enron – observed, this was a story not about numbers but about people.

There were plenty of videotapes of congressional hearings on Enron, TV news coverage, interviews, and even an Enron-made in-house parody of some of their most egregious philosophy. The many extras on the DVD include the reading of excerpts from scripts for some of this productions – they are amazingly prophetic of the fraudulent operation of the corporation.  But what makes the film visually interesting are the very creative shots of reflective surfaces, from the all-glass Enron towers in Houston to images in mirrors, glass coffee tables, on TV monitors, and so on. Gibney’s intent was to illustrate visually the way the Enron leaders reflected back to their employees and stockholders the lie of the company being successful and making loads of money for everyone concerned. Image quality and transfers are first-rate – in other words, this is not a poor-resolution video production.

The documentary has an R rating for brief nudity; that comes in a piece on a former executive who bailed out early with his millions. He was addicted to strip clubs and ended up divorcing his wife and marrying one of the dancers. The personalities of the three remaining top figures who looted the company prior to its bankruptcy are described in depth.  Chief executive Jeffrey Skilling remade himself and kept up the ruse until it all came down on him and he quit shortly before the bankruptcy. Chairman Ken Lay raked in $150 million selling his stock prior o the bankruptcy. And chief financial officer Andy Fastow – who they both now accuse of being the bad boy mastermind – got over $10 million. Prior to the bankruptcy, over $745 million was handed out to 144 of the senior Enron executives, while thousands of employees and other investors lost everything or nearly everything they had invested. One executive committed suicide when he realized the entire scheme was collapsing around him.

Not only the imaginative images but the spot-on music cue choices aid in making the film superbly entertaining. They are something like the clever music cues heard during NPR news but more blatant and humorous.  The actuality tapes of various Enron traders cynically joking about the rolling power blackouts they were deliberately causing in California are chilling. Non-chilling humor is provided by the Firesign Theater in the extras, in a video describing their Wagnerian opera parody, The Fall of Enron. Three Fortune magazine articles are summarized in the extras and the gallery of Enron cartoons is extensive and intensive. This excellent documentary provides a must-see analysis and background on the biggest financial scandal ever, and can serve to prepare viewers who will be following the two trials of Lay and Skilling taking place later this month – with Fastow (already sentenced to ten years) assisting the prosecution.

– John Sunier

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