Independent Lens: Season 8, Episode 22

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (13 Oct. 2005)

TV Episode  -   -  Documentary
7.9
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Ratings: 7.9/10 from 4,493 users   Metascore: 82/100
Reviews: 74 user | 234 critic | 37 from Metacritic.com

Corporate audio and videotapes tell the inside story of the scandal involving one company's manipulation of California's energy supply and its, and how its executives wrung a billion dollars out of the resulting crisis.

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Cast

Episode credited cast:
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Narrator
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
John Beard ...
Himself
...
Herself (archive footage)
...
Himself
Jim Chanos ...
Himself
Dick Cheney ...
Himself
...
Himself (archive footage)
Carol Coale ...
Herself
...
Himself
Reggie Dees II ...
Young man the stripper dances in front of (as Reggie Deets II)
Joseph Dunn ...
Himself
Max Eberts ...
Himself
Peter Elkind ...
Himself
Andrew Fastow ...
Himself
David Freeman ...
Himself
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Storyline

Based on the best-selling book of the same name by Fortune reporters Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, a multidimensional study of one of the biggest business scandals in American history. The chronicle takes a look at one of the greatest corporate disasters in history, in which top executives from the 7th largest company in this country walked away with over one billion dollars, leaving investors and employees with nothing. The film features insider accounts and rare corporate audio and video tapes that reveal colossal personal excesses of the Enron hierarchy and the utter moral vacuum that posed as corporate philosophy. The human drama that unfolds within Enron's walls resembles a Greek tragedy and produces a domino effect that could shape the face of our economy and ethical code for years to come. Written by Sujit R. Varma

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

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It's Just Business

Genres:

Documentary

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for language and some nudity | See all certifications »
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Release Date:

13 October 2005 (Australia)  »

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Box Office

Opening Weekend:

$76,639 (USA) (22 April 2005)

Gross:

$4,064,421 (USA) (16 September 2005)
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1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Among the protesters who disrupt the meeting with Jeff Skilling at San Francisco's Commonwealth Club is Marla Ruzicka, who was killed on 16 April 2005 in Iraq by a suicide bomber. She founded CIVIC (Campaign for Innocent Victims of Conflict) which worked to help the victims of the war in Iraq and she was a former Global Exchange activist. See more »

Quotes

Gray Davis: [upon being asked whether the rumors that he was responsible for the black outs in California are just a plot by the Republican party to get him recalled]
[shouts]
Gray Davis: Hello!
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Crazy Credits

Special thanks includes "all the `Deep Throats' - you know who you are!" See more »

Connections

References Get Smart (1965) See more »

Soundtracks

Son of a Preacher Man
Written by John Hurley and Ronnie Wilkins
Sony/ATV Tree Publishing
Performed by Dusty Springfield
Courtesy of Atlantic Recording Corp.
By Arrangement with Warner Strategic Marketing
Courtesy of Mercury Records Limited under license from Universal Music Enterprises
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User Reviews

 
'Twas hubris killed the beast
29 January 2006 | by (Planet Earth) – See all my reviews

The chief characters in the Enron debacle all seemed to be functioning on the same mantra, that Gordon Gekko line from "Wall Street" (1987) that epitomized the 1980s: "Greed, for the lack of a better word, is good." Except what Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling and Andy Fastow did wasn't in the 1980s, but in this century and they blithely and without any compunction did it for personal gain while tens of thousands were left with nothing.

The Enron scandal was a tough one to understand, at least to me it was, because you could never quite figure out what Enron did. And director Alex Gibney breaks it all down matter-of-factly, never taking sides, never being judgmental, to show us what happened. Of course, he really doesn't need to be judgmental because the actions of Lay, Skilling and Fastow (and a few others) speak volumes.

Gibney's film very well could have been a convoluted mess. But he never loses sight of the fact that this is essentially a story about people. Not only the masters of the universe whose hubris eventually brought them down but, more importantly, the people whose livelihoods depended on what Lay, Fastow and Skilling did and who, unlike those three, didn't have millions to fall back on.

It's impossible not to feel incensed by what they did. Lay, Fastow and Skilling destroyed countless lives, yet they left with millions. There's a moment when Lay bemoans that his net worth dipped from $20 million to, I believe, $6 million. Yeah, tell that to the Oregonian utility worker, whose $340,000 nest egg was eventually only worth $1,200 after Enron stock tumbled in the wake of the scandal.

What's ultimately devastating about this film is listening to the tapes of Enron traders joking about how they were holding California hostage and letting people there suffer without electricity. These chaps are cold, callous and exemplify the Enron environment.

This is a fascinating film because it exposes these guys for who they are. And after listening to those interviewed in this film, it's impossible to believe Lay and Skilling were somehow oblivious to it all. How else could you explain why they insisted Enron employees invest in the company stock while they themselves were cashing out?

What's equally infuriating is realizing how Wall Street sucked up to Enron and how investment firms turned on anyone who dared to question Enron's power.

Of course, it's not surprising at all to see Lay's connections to the Bush family. But I am certain Dubya really didn't know very well someone he called "Kenny Boy." Just as, I'm sure, W's photos with Jack Abramoff mean absolutely nothing, either.

There's a moment in "Wall Street" when Bud Fox asks Gordon, "How much is enough?" And Gordon replies, "It's not a question of enough, pal. It's a zero sum game, somebody wins, somebody loses. Money itself isn't lost or made, it's simply transferred from one perception to another."

That's exactly what Enron did under Lay and Skilling. Except they did it on the backs of tens of thousands of hard-working Americans who lost pretty much everything. I can only hope the American justice system does right by all those workers.


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