"Another film not likely to appear at a White House screening anytime soon."
Last thing I remember I was running for the doors
I had to find the entries back
To the GAAP we had before
“Relax,” said the client
“We are programmed to succeed
You can audit any time you like
But we will never bleed.”
-from “Hotel Kenneth-Lay-a,” a parody of “Hotel California” written by Arthur Andersen accountant James Hecker describing the accounting policies of Enron, which he described as “shambolic”The story of the stunning rise and the even-more-stunning collapse on Enron, the once-powerful energy concern that crashed in a blaze of greed, deceit and staggering debt, has been chronicled in exhaustive detail in various books, articles and news reports. However, what the fascinating new documentary “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” contributes to the discussion are the startling and appalling sounds of the perpetrators of one of America’s most calamitous business scandals as they go about their shady business.
It has been reported in many places, for example, that the company was involved in the California power shortages a couple of years ago--which instigated a chain of events that led to Governor Schwarzenegger (whom, we learn in a bit of new information, met with Ken Lay in the weeks before the announcement of his candidacy in the recall that drove then-Governor Gray Davis out of office)–but this film offers us audiotape of a couple of Enron traders cackling with glee over a resulting brushfire and how they can profit from it. In another surreal sight, we see Ken Lay bestowing the “Enron Prize for Distinguished Service” to Alan Greenspan–less than three weeks before the company declared bankruptcy. There is even the twisted sight of an in-house video in which several top-level employees goof on the very same questionable financial dealings that destroyed both the company and countless lives in the process.
Beyond that, the film–written and directed by Alex Gibney and based on the excellent book by Bethany McLean (the “Fortune” reporter who wrote an early article questioning the company’s finances) and Peter Elkind–does an impressive job of telling an unbelievable and staggeringly complex story in a clear and concise manner while avoiding turning it into a simple act of cinematic nose-thumbing at a bunch of greedheads who got caught with their hands in the cookie jar. The real focus of Gibney’s anger is the corporate culture that allowed it to happen in the first place–not just the executive and traders at Enron who conceived of the various shady deals, but the financiers, regulators and journalists who let them get away with it without raising even the most rudimentary questions about how they were supposed to be making the vast sums that they claimed.The result is a smart and troubling film that shows in gruesome detail just how much damage can be wrought in the never-ending pursuit of profits at all costs.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2005 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sydney Film Festival For more in the 2005 Sydney Film Festival series, click here.