Review of “Enron – The Smartest Guys in the Room”


DVD release: 11.09.2006
Duration: 110 min
Genre: documentary
Lions Gate Home Entertainment




“So, how exactly does Enron make its money?” asks business reporter Bethany McLean the Enron chief executive Jeffrey Skilling for the magazine Fortune in March 2001.

And is a bit surprised that he can not answer the straightforward question.

In fact, even now, five years after the collapse and bankruptcy of America’s seventh largest corporation, the question is still a mystery, given that Enron’s accounting firm Arthur Anderson shredded one ton of balance sheets before the full extent of the fraud was known.

And the trials are still ongoing: Last month, Enron boss Jeffrey Skilling was just sentenced to 24 years and 4 months in prison for fraud and conspiracy.

So, how better way to learn quickly about the issue and the 16-year history of the $60 billion Enron empire rise and fall than by watching theEnron – The smartest guys in the room” documentary film.

It is quite comprehensive and based on the book with the same title: it details biographies and personalities of the key players and explains some of the mysteries of the California electricity black-outs in 2001, the relationship of Enron with the Bush presidential family, the financial collapse of the corporation and how Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor of California.

The film is so detailed, that after about an hour the concentration of the viewer goes out of the window, as the brain just can not take any more explanations for financial transactions with dubious sub-companies and “mark-to market” accounting, which included future profits which never physically materialised.

Although the main component of the film are a variety of witnesses recalling events, the film makers try to visualize explanations by including archive footage of conferences, speeches, presentations, photos, magazines, old TV adverts, court videos, and an excerpt of The Simpsons to make the dry subject more interesting. But they should have stuck to the point more and focused on the essentials, as the strippers and adventure holidays of the CEOs are a bit too distracting from the main story, though entertaining.

The only strong visuals in the film are the empty Enron headquarter in Houston in Texas, the Dabhol power plant ruin in India and the old news reports about the California electricity black-out.

What the film makers achieve very well though is to draw the audience into a tale of corporate and personal greed and human scrupulousness. It is enlightening, informative and explanations are as simple and clear as possible.

Also pointed out are the inhumane dangers of a deregulated energy market and the new greedy, aggressive business model in times of globalisation.

(4 stars out of 5)



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