Enron dives from the seventh largest US company to bankruptcy in less than a year in this tale told chronologically. The emphasis is on human drama, from suicide to 20,000 people sacked: the personalities of Ken Lay (with Falwellesque rectitude), Jeff Skilling (he of big ideas), Lou Pai (gone with $250 M), and Andy Fastow (the dark prince) dominate. Along the way, we watch Enron game California's deregulated electricity market, get a free pass from Arthur Andersen (which okays the dubious mark-to-market accounting), use greed to manipulate banks and brokerages (Merrill Lynch fires the analyst who questions Enron's rise), and hear from both Presidents Bush what great guys these are.Written by
Among the protesters who disrupt the meeting with Jeff Skilling at San Francisco's Commonwealth Club is Marla Ruzicka. The former Global Exchange activist founded CIVIC (Campaign for Innocent Victims of Conflict), which worked to help the victims of the war in Iraq. She died in Iraq on April 16, 2005, the victim of a suicide bombing. See more »
[Q&A session with employees]
All right, we are down to questions. And I got a few up here.
[reads question from the floor]
'I would like to know if you are on crack, if so that would explain a lot. If not, you may want to start because it's going to be a long time before we trust you again.'
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...because I can't see what's different from what happened here and what the banks did that caused the global collapse of 2008. Turning hard assets into derivatives and selling them on the market? Knowing that a product is worthless and encouraging its trade anyways? This sounds familiar, it's just Enron traded derivatives on fuels and the banks did it on real estate. Thus I guess there is nothing different here other than the banks committed crimes on such a large scale that all of the criminals wouldn't fit into prisons without us building more, plus all of those campaign contributions! Congress couldn't let THAT dry up! So here we sit with 0% interest rates on our savings until the banks recoup every cent that they lost, so I don't see how this is different from what was threatened in Crete - confiscation of a portion of all depositors' funds to make the banks there whole, except here in the U.S. it is happening slooooowly, so nobody complains of outright theft. But I digress.
Now to the film itself. It takes almost two hours to chart the history of Enron, from the beginning in the mid 80's to its sudden collapse in 2001. There are interviews with everyone involved with the company from accountants to regular employees, and like all Ponzi schemes, people might have had their doubts and suspicions, but nobody wanted to upset the money train especially if they are on that train. And like all Ponzi schemes Enron came to a sudden abrupt end when there was no way to hide the fact that all of the money and the profits were not real.
Also very interesting is the gladiator/macho corporate culture described, largely caused by COO Jeff Skilling waking up one day, realizing he was a nerd, and wanting to throw off that nerd persona. He lost weight, worked out, got Lasik done on his eyes, and began to organize adventure trips for himself and an inner circle of Enron executives, some of which involved actual bodily danger. He instituted an Enron employee ranking system in which employees were ranked from 1-5 and those in the lowest ranks were automatically terminated. It was the Billionaire Boys Club minus the murder and involving a much bigger club.
Of course, now the scandal looks almost quaint compared to what we've been living with since 2008.In 2005, when this film was made, such an implosion by a company that had been named "most innovative company" for six consecutive years by CEOs, 1996-2001, the last year being the year of Enron's collapse, was still quite the spectacle. The irony is that if Enron had collapsed in 2011 instead of 2001, I doubt anybody would have gone to jail. Heck, it might not have even been newsworthy except in Texas! Also, the company might have even received a federal bailout.
The highlight of the film for me - a video "Christmas card" to Ken Lay made by Enron execs in which they do a comedy sketch about "creative accounting" which turns out to be EXACTLY what the company was doing that hid their problems.
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