The inside story of one of historys greatest business scandals in which top executives of americas 7th largest company walked away with over one billion dollars while investors & employees lost everything. Studio: Magnoli... more »a Pict Hm Ent Release Date: 11/07/2006 Run time: 110 minutes« less
"I went into Alex Gibney's "Smartest Guys in the Room" having read Robert Bryce's "Pipe Dreams" and Kurt Eichenwald's "Conspiracy of Fools" thinking to myself: should be good, but no way the movie is going to come close to telling the story like those two authors did.
Well, surprise, surprise: the movie is outstanding on its own terms and all credit goes to Gibney. While the books focus on unraveling all of Andy Fastow's 'Special Purpose Entities' like the Raptors, LJM, Chewco, etc., Gibney brilliantly focuses on showing us things that are simply better on film: audio recordings of Enron traders jacking the California energy system; a devastated Portland Gas line worker after his 401K has gone to seed; an uncomfortable Skilling getting grilled by a Senate panel while Sherron Watkins glowers at him from 10 feet away; some Enron HR flack urging its employees to put all their 401K money into company stock, etc.
And there are two incredible, spine-tingling moments if you know the Enron story:
- An audio recording of the famous quarterly results analyst call where Skilling loses it and calls an analyst an a------. [The analyst only asked why the company couldn't produce a balance sheet.] Reading Eichenwald's book, you know Skilling is clearly unhinged at this point. For many, this call was the turning point of the great unraveling.
- A secret video recording from Merrill Lynch of Andy Fastow's LJM2 pitch to a bunch of bankers. This is *mesmerizing* stuff. Fastow is front and center in the books, but remains a spooky, off-camera presence in the movie. However, this one piece nails him. He's perpetrating a major fraud with that spiel.
Most of all, the movie is a tribute to the work of reporters Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, both of whom had the guts to ask at the beginning "How does Enron make money"? No one at the company could answer the question and management's response was to attempt to bully McLean and then, in turn, bully her editors. They didn't bend. The story ran. The rest is history. In business writing, this was journalism on the level of Woodward and Bernstein. All glory belongs to Ms. McLean and Mr. Elkind.
Two other great moves by Alex Gibney:
- Getting Amanda Martin on film to talk about the tragedy of Cliff Baxter's life and of Jeff Skilling's career. What a smart filmmaker. The camera *loves* Amanda Martin. Far better for your film to have her tell that story than have Ken Rice, Lou Pai or any other member of the Skilling inner circle.
- Getting Peter Coyote to narrate. His is the perfect voice for this saga."
Decades will not wipe out this catastrophe.
Miles D. Moore | Alexandria, VA USA | 05/06/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Alex Gibney's "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room," based on the book by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, is a riveting, masterful documentary about the most appalling catastrophe in American corporate history: the collapse of Enron, brought about by the ruthlessness, greed and treachery of its top executives. Although Gibney is adept at adding touches of dark humor to the film, the only emotions I felt at the end were sorrow and outrage that Kenneth Lay, Jeffrey Skilling and Andrew Fastow were allowed to perpetrate their monstrous fraud for so many years, eventually ruining the lives of 20,000 Enron employees and who knows how many Enron shareholders. (There are also those who have never been called to account, such as the elusive and vindictive Lou Pai, who left Enron before the crash with $250 million in his bank account.) A former Enron executive interviewed for the film compares the Enron disaster to the movie "Body Heat," with Fastow playing William Hurt to Skilling's Kathleen Turner. (I have an even better analogy: the Enron collapse as presented by Gibney is like the movie "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer," with Fastow playing Otis to Skilling's Henry.) As for Ken Lay, as this film presents him, he's more like Gertrude Stein's description of Oakland: There's no THERE there. Gibney presents in horrifying detail not only the hubris and dishonesty of Lay, Skilling, Fastow and their cohorts, but also the blind greed of Merrill Lynch, Arthur Andersen and other corporations that blithely ignored the signs of impending doom in order to have a share of the pickings. The film's real tragedy is that, however satisfying it is to see Lay, Skilling and Fastow led off in handcuffs at the end, we know the damage they wrought, both financial and political, will last for decades after they're gone. I give one example: of course everyone knows that the California energy crisis brought about largely by the rapacity of Enron energy traders was the main reason for the successful recall effort against California Governor Gray Davis. And most people probably realize, though they don't think about it much, that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chief who refused to help Davis was appointed by George W. Bush on the express recommendation of Ken Lay. But what people almost certainly DON'T know--unless they've seen this movie--is that during the crisis Ken Lay called a meeting in Los Angeles of Enron's Caifornia supporters. No minutes from this meeting have ever come to light, but one of the attendees was Arnold Schwarzenegger. You do the math."
Greed as a Creed
!Edwin C. Pauzer | New York City | 05/16/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Narrated by veteran actor, Peter Coyote, this DVD is disturbingly real. It reveals the depths that people will sink at the expense of others, and it reveals how widespread it was.
First, Arthur Anderson Consulting signed off on "mark to marketing" accounting. In other words, Enron could report their projected earnings as actual profits. They could "report" profits of millions of dollars that they didn't have. They paid bonuses and other excesses with these projections.
Next, Jeff Skilling was hired by Ken Lay to run the operations of the company. Skilling was a man with fresh, or some would say, grandiose ideas. This is just what Lay wanted--a man of vision.
Skilling soon instituted promotions and bonuses for analysts who produced more than the other guy. Creating a classic cuthroat environment, the producers were given phenomenal bonuses while their less successful counterparts were shown the door. These were all being given on projected earnings.
One rebel market analyst from Merrill Lynch would not give Enron a "strong buy" rating. Skilling contacted Merrill Lynch who promptly fired the errant employee, and Enron gave Merrill Lynch a fifty million dollar contract.
Enter Andy Fastow another Enron executive in the mold of Jeff Skilling who managed to set up dummy corporations which were paying Enron. Several prominent banks knew of the scheme and went along with it. (You may even have your money in one of them.)
Another Enron executive, named Pi was an executive cuthroat who knew his predilections and his limits. He left the company after making $250,000,000 and married his pregnant, stripper girlfriend.
Skilling, Fastow, and Lay kept attempting new investments in energy and other ventures which flopped miserably. The DVD shows how they were beginning to lose their ability to think of new ideas to fool the public and the investors who never saw an Enron balance sheet or earnings statement.
The most chilling part of this is the Enron analysts who were able to create rolling black-outs through California. They invested in the stock of power companies before they called the power companies and asked them to shut down the power for hours at a time. This, in turn, created demand, which increased the price of the stock and their profits. The real chill is you hear what is tantamount to their psychopathic laughter at the misery and hardship they helped create throughout the state. In another instance, they actually began cheering when a forest fire shuts down a power plant. Their "profit cheering" with no regard for the misery of the people without power may make the viewer want to drop these guys from a tall building.
It gets even better--I mean, worse. Ken Lay said he didn't know what was going on. Interviewees told Ken Lay what his analysts were doing. None were fired or disciplined. How did he not know? He, like other top executives, sold off almost all their shares in the company just before the bad news hit. The common worker who had his or her 401K tied up in Enron stock was not allowed to sell it as the company and its stock value collapsed. They lost everything. One common power company worker who was interviewed said that his pension went from $340,000 to $1,200. This was painful to listen to.
One last thing, these "Enron entrepreneurs" fought tooth and nail to keep California's energy laws deregulated. Everything has its positives and negatives. If free market enterprise is unchecked it does lead to invention and creativity. It also leads to greed and excesses.
Maybe a little regulation is not such a bad thing.
Update: Lay and Skilling have been found guilty. Their lawyer fees, expensive. The verdict, priceless!
Definitely worth a few bucks and two hours of your time
Renee B. Fulton | Reston, Va USA | 02/04/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"OK, I admit it. I didn't get the whole Enron thing a few years back. The Enron collapse happened too soon after 9/11 and I was completely preoccupied with that and our subsequent war on terror to pay much attention to the Enron story. Plus I figured that it was probably too complex for me to understand without doing a lot of research and I just didn't want to give it that much attention. And on top of that, I had never even heard of the company before so understanding what had happened at this Texan company clearly wasn't a priority to me. So...I enjoyed the documentary in helping me to finally understood what happened... Well, now I get it. And I'm soooo suprised to learn about so many connections I hadn't put together before like California's "energy crisis", the Enron collapse, and the political (yet ignorant) motivation for naming Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor. The documentary is extremely well done, definitely kept my attention, and provides an uncomplicated, riveting look at corporate greed and narcissism. It is definitely worth a few bucks and two hours of your time."
The Smartest Men In A Room Full Of Stupid People
Dusty | California | 04/07/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Rather than repeating what other reviewers have already written, I will only confirm that the 5 Star reviews here are pretty much right on target. This is an exceptionally good documentary for anyone interested in Corporate America in general, or the Enron scandal in particular. It is no small accomplishment to create a riveting film about accounting, but writer/director Alex Gibney somehow did it. Don't let the word "accounting" scare you away--this is a human interest story all the way.
However, there is one thing that bothers me about this film, in that it places Enron executives on a kind of pedestal in the tradition of Greek tragedy, as if Lay, Skilling, Fastow, Pai and others deserved special recognition despite their actions. The commentators often give them credit for working hard and rising from poverty to the upper echelon of wealth, and they call that "success". To me, "success" has more to do with being a decent human being, whether you end up rich or poor, and decency seems to be completely absent in the major characters of this "tragedy". Indeed, for those who are not part of the corporate cult mentality, one could easily argue that these men probably would never have risen to such great heights if they had been decent, because the corporate model doesn't reward decency. It rewards only those who make the bottom line their God.
The commentators also repeat their belief that the Enron executives, and Skilling in particular, were "smart" or "brilliant", and again the only evidence to support this is the fact that they rose from poverty to wealth, as if intelligence and wealth were somehow correlated. Having watched Skilling in action, "smart" is about the last word I would use to describe him. Clever, perhaps, but not smart. After all, these men devastated the lives of countless employees and investors, interfered with the U.S. government regulatory process, forced millions of Californians to endure unnecessary rolling blackouts, and generally destroyed everything they touched (except for Pai, who got away free and clear with a quarter billion dollars and a stripper). How could that possibly describe the actions of people who are "smart"? Again, they are confusing wealth with intelligence, when the two are completely unrelated (just compare the wealthy George W. Bush with impoverished Abe Lincoln in terms of intelligence and literacy).
Lastly, I was horrified by the ease with which Kenneth Lay could express so much false empathy for the lives that Enron destroyed, while his actions show a completely different story. For example, after listing a litany of devastating effects the Enron collapse had on so many poor people, he notes that he and his wife will have to live with that shame for the rest of their lives. Then he notes that he himself has suffered right along with them when his net worth dropped to a mere $20 million. Poor baby.
These were not the smartest men in the room. They were among the stupidest people our society has produced. If there is one lesson to be learned from the Enron scandal, I hope it is the lesson of what happens when stupid people aquire wealth and power, while others put them on a pedastal as being worthy of our consideration at all simply because they achieved that degree of wealth and power. "