Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005) Poster

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8/10
Fascinating documentary - never a dull moment - too bad the trial results are missing
lightdee25 April 2007
A very interesting expose on the greed, hubris, lies, etc. that brought Enron down. This film is well-done and digs up a lot of dirt. The PBS viewing showed a little clip after the film which discussed the strange trial results, which was probably the biggest problem with the film - it pretty much ends with the bankruptcy of enron and doesn't show much about the trials, since they took place later, although they would make for a great inclusion. To me, the most incredible part of the film is that fact that these guys would stand up every day and tell bold-faced lies to the employees, the government, the investors, and make it all sound good. They had to be thinking in the back of their head "it's all going to come crashing down someday"...
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8/10
I hope Ken Lay is somewhere hot
blanche-216 December 2009
I agree with previous posts: "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room" is right up there with the biggest horror films of our time. And this one is scarier because it's real.

It's hard to say what boggles the mind most: the complicity of Arthur Andersen, the banks, and the traders in this elaborate scheme of making a failing company look profitable; the fact that the executives cashed out their stock at high prices and froze the employees' stock accessibility until it was worth nothing; the derisive laughter of the traders over the Enron-caused blackouts in California ("let them fall into the ocean - let them use candles); that Lu Pi, a guy who ran a failing Enron company, left that company with $250 million in his pocket; or the fact that Ken Lay died before they could convict him of anything. Take your pick, it's all disgusting.

When one of the California power companies called Enron and said there was a fire in the plant, the trader chuckled and said, "Burn, baby, burn." That sums up Enron's, the banks, the traders', and Arthur Andersen's attitude toward the common man - burn, baby, burn. Let's hope that's what Ken Lay is doing right now.

This is a great documentary even if you don't understand business. The only part I didn't quite get were these dummy corporations that Flatow started up to hide Enron's losses which were then invested in by the banks. That was a little complicated, but you'd think someone would have realized that the CFO of Enron running companies that were supposedly selling to Enron was a conflict of interest. Funny, no bank picked it up. They won't give you a mortgage, but they'll pay a fortune to a dummy corporation.

Probably my favorite part was the mark to market accounting system employed by Enron and signed off on by Arthur Andersen. I have no understanding of a reliable accounting firm allowing such a thing. In other words, if I have a book proposal, I can report a profit of, say, $30,000 on the book even though it isn't sold and I haven't seen a dime. And one wonders how they cooked their books. With help, that's how.
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7/10
Insightfully informative
anupam-satyasheel17 May 2007
Based on and named after the bestseller book Smartest Guys in the Room, this documentary provides an insightful look into the scandalous fall of Enron Corp. There are no actors in this documentary and yet it is dramatic. Such were the factors leading to the 'amazing rise and scandalous fall' of Enron that even a documentary featuring events preceding that historic day in December 2001, when Enron filed for the largest bankruptcy in the corporate US history, seems like a tale of epic imagination.

This documentary is neither as detailed nor as insightful as the book, but it does a great job of providing an insightful and reasonably detailed account of the Enron saga. Overall, it is not of any incremental value for the people who have read the book. However, if you can't go through 464 pages, this does a great job of enlightening you on the drama that Enron was.
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8/10
Unfettered Hubris Drives Intriguing Account of Enron Scandal
EUyeshima17 April 2008
Even after reading Kurt Eichenwald's "Conspiracy of Fools: A True Story", I was not prepared for the near-Greek tragedy presented in this smartly produced documentary of the Enron scandal based on yet another book by journalists Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind. Directed by Andy Gibney, the 2005 film follows the complicated rise and fall of Enron in an easy-to-follow, chronological order since the mid-1980's, using actor Peter Coyote's lucid voice-over narration. Enron started as a moderate-sized Houston gas-pipeline company that grew exponentially, reaping benefits for shareholders and far more so for the Enron executive team for a long, uninterrupted stretch. Billions of dollars were collected due to speculative mark-to-market accounting techniques approved by the SEC, and Enron consequently became one of the world's largest natural-gas suppliers.

What resonates most from this searing film is how circumstantially pathological the chief villains are in this true corporate morality story. While the infamous Ken Lay comes across as the corrupt figurehead we have already come to know through news reports, it's really Enron CFO Andy Fastow (dubbed appropriately "The Sorcerer's Apprentice") and especially President and COO Jeff Skilling, who are mercilessly exposed here. Skilling is portrayed as a brilliant leader and a corporate Darwinist, whose favorite book is Richard Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene", which he apparently translated into a bloodless performance review policy that worked like a genetic algorithm for people. Employees were rated on a 1-5 scale based on the amount of money one made for the company. Skilling mandated that between 10-15% of employees had to be rated as 5's (worst). And to get a rating of 5 meant that one was immediately fired. This review process was dubbed "rank and yank". Such was a typical example of his survivalist thinking.

The corruption spread throughout the company, as Enron was responsible for, among other things, gaming the Northern California "rolling blackouts" in 2001, whereby the company profited as huge parts of the state were plunged into darkness. Citizens were threatened by a deregulation plan that essentially enabled a number of immoral Enron traders (led by Tim Belden) to place calls that drove up energy-market prices and took advantage of power-plant shutdowns. Of course, the Bush family dynasty does not come across unscathed in the Enron story and justifiably so according to their inextricable ties to Lay. Gibney effectively uses video footage from testimony at congressional hearings, as well as interviews with disillusioned former employees such as Mike Muckleroy and whistle-blower Sherron Watkins (who uses some effective pop culture references like "Body Heat" and Jonestown to get her points across).

There are some amusing vignettes and images that tie some of the disparate elements together with excessive glibness. The documentary is best when it sticks to the facts, for this is one inarguable case where fact is truly stranger than fiction. Extras are plentiful on the 2006 DVD. Gibney provides an informative albeit verbose commentary track, and four deleted scenes, about twenty minutes in total, are included that become redundant with the film's portrayal of corporate malfeasance. There is also a fourteen-minute making-of featurette, as well as a "Where Are They Now?" snippet on the principals and three separate conversations with McLean and Elkind on how they got the story, how they validated their findings, and their enthusiastic reaction to the film. Other bonus materials include Gibney reading from scripts of skits performed at Enron and a Firesign Theater sketch about Enron's demise, as well as Fortune Magazine articles written by McLean and Elkind and a gallery of editorial cartoons.
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9/10
It's worth your time if you're a horror fan. It's as frightening as anything you've seen.
doctorsmoothlove19 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
The collapse of the Enron Corporation is fascinating to anyone with even rudimentary understanding of the economic practices of American corporations. It isn't surprising that several books describing the collapse are available. However, what is surprising is that a film would be adapted from one of said books. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room takes a different approach to the documentary genre, as most documentaries are independent of a literary source or spawn one of their own. I'm not inclined to say this is the reason the film is not only entertaining and informative even to those who lack knowledge of business practices, but it probably does contribute to its effectiveness. It may be difficult for non-American viewers to completely understand, but the psychological appeal is evident. I had to watch this film for my Business Ethics course in University.

The film describes the formation of Enron under the leadership of the ignominious Ken Lay. Jeffrey Fastow is Ken's disciple and he hires one of his own. He is graduate student, Andrew Fastow, who helps him facilitate Enron's practice of hiding debt in smaller companies. Fastow later becomes CEO of the company. The film also mentions the Lu Pei interlude, which resulted in 250 million dollars exiting the company for Pei's private consumption. The film also describes Kenneth Lay's position as CEO until his resignation in 2002. In addition, the film describes Enron's "power play" to manipulate electrical energy prices in California, Enron's relationship with the Bush family, Enron's fixation with imaginary profits, Enron's relationship with Arthur Anderson ,and Enron's "rank n' yank" system of eliminating "bad" employees. If what I've described sounds like an overview of a non-documentary film, then I've communicated effectively. With only narration, interviews, and commentary, Peter Coyote and Alex Gibney create a documentary which transcends its genre into a legal thriller of comparison to Michael Clayton. While such a comparison may seem unjust, and it probably is, this film's source material allows it to unfold unlike most documentaries. Skilling's fixation with Enron's continued success, embodied with his declaration "I am Enron", to Lu Pei's swindling of corporate money, and the brutal end create a documentary with a distinctive narrative structure. The film even displays conclusion by stating the end to its villain-protagonists and the harm that they caused to their underlings.

Additionally, the film provides analysis of Enron's policies through consultation of business associates of Enron. It deftly compares the ability of Lay and the others to swindle such large amounts of money to Milgram's experiment on the limit of human obedience. The effect all this has is to show the ability of the human mind to find loopholes in the most sophisticated of systems. It also deeply bothers the audience, at least it did me. Any thought a viewer has of the virtues of corporate America will vanish after watching this film. Furthermore, when the film describes Enron's role in the end of Gray Davis' governorship and the Bush family's role in deregulating the business environment, it does so without appearing derogatory.

Few documentaries are as adroitly crafted as this one is. Through interviews, TV clips, and narration, Gibney has created an imaginative and compelling documentary. At times I felt as if this film wasn't the documentary it claims to be. It never lets you rest as it gives example after example of the infinity of corruption. Maybe by watching it, you'll be one of the smartest guys in the room. Lay, Skilling, Pei, and Fastow would have no problem acing an ethics course or at least getting a good grade.
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10/10
corporate fraud reigns supreme
lee_eisenberg19 January 2010
When Enron filed for bankruptcy at the end of 2001, it was a shock to most Americans. But as "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room" shows, it shouldn't have been. The documentary, narrated by Peter Coyote, traces the energy giant's origins - including CEO Ken Lay's childhood - to its rise as one of the largest corporations in the United States.

What's really interesting is the intricacy of Enron's actions around the world, and how it pulled off all its shenanigans (aided, of course, by Kenny Boy's contributions to George W. Bush's first presidential campaign). Among Enron's more vicious acts was its manipulation of California's electricity in summer, 2001, and how Arnold Schwarzenegger let the company off the hook. Not to mention that Enron's collapse was accompanied by Lay's draining of the employees' retirement.

Enron's downfall - followed over the next year by the implosions of Adelphia, WorldCom and Tyco - just goes to show the dangers of letting corporations run rampant. The whole way through, the documentary manages to be funny, just at the sight of what Enron was doing, abetted by Arthur Andersen.

All in all, I definitely recommend "E:TSGITR".

PS: In "Bowling for Columbine", Michael Moore proposed a TV show called "Corporate Cops" (based on "Cops!"), in which people like Ken Lay would get strip-searched.
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8/10
The biggest pyramid of them all
paul2001sw-13 August 2007
How did Enron become the world's largest corporate bankruptcy? A culture of greed, and fraud, coupled with an accounting system ripe for abuse, was part of it. But one also needs to understand the way that markets work (ironically, since Enron claimed to know this better than anyone else). The rise in Enron's share price had all the hallmarks of a classic pyramid scheme, whereby, if you claim to be making enough money, you can get away without proving it, because investors all want in, not out. Meanwhile, Enron bankrolled its regulators with the money it did have to stop them asking about the money it didn't. Finally, when all this was exposed, the firm was worthless, even though there had been at least some successful businesses within it, because, fundamentally, like all businesses, Enron has sold confidence and now this commodity was in very short supply; but Chief Executive Jeff Skilling's claim that "it was a classic run on the bank" is disingenuous to say the least, given that the real money that Enron did (at one time) make was earned through deliberately operating with very low reserves. 'The Smartest Guys in the Room' tells some of the story of Enron's collapse: and it's a compelling tale, although I found the use of background music rather annoying (the story is divided up into titled sections, with each section being the name of a song, which feels rather heavy-handed and obvious). But is gives a good flavour of what went on at Enron, although it doesn't go into the full details of the crooked financial transactions, and (like all the books I have read on the same subject) doesn't manage to answer the killer questions: what were, year-on-year, Enron's real profits and losses? and who knew what, when? Probably, these are impossible questions to answer: the picture that emerges is of a company where the bosses didn't want to know, everybody's job was to keep their superior happy and rich, and if you could do this, they wouldn't ask how you had managed it (or how rich you had made yourself in the process); a happy conspiracy until, eventually and inevitably, the money ran out. And as I said before, the irony is that this company that tried and failed to buck the markets was itself the high priest of market capitalism. If Enron's failure at least induces a dose of scepticism about the self-proclaimed (and invariably loaded) champions of market economics, some good at least will have emerged from what is otherwise a sorry tale.
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7/10
Stylish but Soft-Hitting
maxschmeder9 August 2007
"Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room" is suave and well-crafted, but betrays some wishful thinking and apologist tendencies.

Some ex-Enron workers venture poetic but unmerited speculations about their corrupter associates, conjuring hypothetical images of their former friends now reflecting back on their transgressions and experiencing ethical remorse. We are subjected to clichés about their having to face their own "shadows" and whatnot, all of it speculative, and in spite of any evidence that they ever experienced a moral twinge or regretted anything other than getting caught.

There's also an insidious "slippery slope" message, some philosophical waxing upon the blurriness of ethical lines, and depictions of compulsive personalities, all of which introduce unwarranted moral ambiguity. Bethany McLean, one of the investigative journalists, surprisingly lays overmuch of the blame on Andrew Fastow, declaring that the fraud started with him (!) even though Fastow is elsewhere shown to have been recruited into a company already corrupt from the top down. There is some subtle attempt at containment here. This film skewers the culprits one moment, but then shrinks from the implications.

The WORST example is a naive question given undue emphasis by being left "provocatively" open-ended. The narrator, Peter Coyote, asks, "What motivated the corrupt traders? Was it their million dollar bonuses? Or was it docile complicity?" (I'm paraphrasing here) A no-brainer answer you might think, but then - I kid you not - the documentary suggests the second possibility and launches into the fascinating but entirely irrelevant Milgram experiment, in which reluctant subjects are persuaded by an authority figure to voluntarily electrocute others. But Enron traders were a uniformly sanguine lot, evidenced by testimonials and taped conversations displaying naked greed and delight (generous clips of which are included in the documentary). Yet we are supposed to imagine they were the victims of obedience training?

It's a bit much...

Maybe two or three of the commentators don't pussyfoot around, and through them "The Smartest Guys" successfully conveys the perils of the free market and deregulation; but these lessons get watered down by wistful undertones and feigned ambiguity. Post-Enron, the communist charge that capitalists are "cannibals" now seems undeniably apt. Yet we forever flatter ourselves, rehearsing the cant of the free market ideology, according to which the profit motive encourages 1) innovation and 2) hard work. Granted. But what the pundits and economists invariably overlook is that the profit motive also encourages 3) robbery. Adam Smith's *other* "invisible hand," if you will ...hidden behind the back and gripping a knife! Enron calls for an inquiry into the nature of capitalism, not an explanation based upon specific personalities. Human nature is what it is, and there will always be people ready and willing to cut throats when given motivation and opportunity. To misquote the NRA: People don't kill people.. incentives do.

Final criticism: a bit of shabby hypocrisy. One of the Enron execs is portrayed as having sleazy encounters with strippers; the viewer is then dutifully treated to lots of footage of nude strippers... ha!
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8/10
I guess there's safety in numbers...
AlsExGal21 April 2013
...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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Even more chilling now
rogerdarlington17 February 2009
Enron was the US energy company that "Fortune" named as "America's Most Innovative Company" for six consecutive years and, at its height, it employed 22,000 people and claimed revenues of around $100 billion. It went bankrupt at the end of 2001 and this documentary was released in 2005, but I did not see it until four years later. By then, we had experienced 'the end of capitalism as we've known it' and the most serious collapse in financial markets since the Wall Street Crash. What Enron and the wider market crash have in common is the murky world of derivatives, an excessive exuberance for risk, and simple avarice and hubris, while the mother and father of both crises are deregulation.

Alex Gibney co-wrote, co-produced and directed this work which, though occasionally complex, is compelling viewing and a lesson to us all on corporate greed and regulatory failure. Interviews with key observers and extracts from Congressional hearings are linked by a narration from Peter Coyote. The heroines of the story are Bethany McLean, the financial journalist who first questioned the valuation of Enron, and Sherron Watkins, the senior manager who blew the whistle on the company. The villains are a long list of men headed by Enron Chairman Kenneth Lay and Chief Executive Jeffrey Skilling. Maybe there is a gender lesson here as well - as many financial and political ones.
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6/10
Holy Cow! You don't have to be the smartest guy to understand this.
bluessis24 April 2007
OK. I remember when this came out, I thought that business stuff is not my forte, and so I never bothered to watch it. But tonight my boyfriend was watching it on PBS, and the filmmakers and people being interviewed totally make it understandable. And I am totally appalled. It boggles my head that these people, not just Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, but also just the common traders on the floor, were so scarily insane and greedy. Some of the clips of traders talking on the floor or phones about events in California, etc., were the scariest and (I know I said it before, but...) appalling! I highly recommend this film. I feel terribly sorry for all of those people who got caught up in the maelstrom. Somehow, I find this documentary about corporate finance gone bad creepier than any horror film... cause it is real!
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A fascinating story in a clear and well-delivered film whose only weakness is the bias inherent in the telling
bob the moo19 February 2008
When Enron was granted permission to use mark-to-market accounting it saw the start of the dramatic increase in its profits and its share price. The method allows a company to claim projected earnings from projects once the deal is signed. With this in place Enron was able to earn money without actually earning money. However this could not go on forever and the company was under pressure to continually come up with new ideas to keep the deals and money flowing. And it did so, to the point where it was widely praised within the business community and by stockholders. However things would eventually catch up with the company and a few years ago the company collapsed in bankruptcy before the arrests began.

Working for an American multinational myself I am always interested and critical of the business model of making more and more money and keeping the stock increasing in value being the only way to survive. So I have watched films like this and like The Corporation with interest and appreciate the way that they sell a complex issue in easy to understand ways. With the Enron film it is all the more interesting because it is a prime example of how it all fell down and how easy it is to con the market – which, regardless of the legality of the accounting method used, is basically what they did! The film tells the story well and it is a tale that never struggles to fascinate. Lesser hands could have fudged the telling but the team here structure it well and use footage from Enron and C-Span to really good effect. In fact I did wonder how much this film cost to make because the vast majority of it is stock footage and a handful of interviews.

Although they lay things out well, the film doesn't manage to avoid nailing its colours to the mast; which is a shame because the story is compelling enough and damning enough to work without resorting to cheap digs, funny footage and so on. Sadly it does use this – not to the point of distraction but just to the point where I wondered if the makers didn't think that the facts would be strong enough to make the audience get the point without the extra bit of hammering. The film also stretches to bring in Bush and his cronies as if they were also to blame; it doesn't labour this point but what little it does is stretched – again it could have done less and allowed the audience to draw its own conclusions.

Overall this is not a perfect documentary because it is a bit biased and based on commentary from subjects all on one side of the fence. However it is well structured and easy to follow, stripping away the feared complexity of the tale and telling it in a fascinating and engaging way. A cautionary tale that I doubt that those that needed to learn from have learnt from. Well worth a look and yet another good documentary making it into cinemas.
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10/10
Well Done + Worth Watching Every Couple Years as Reminder About All the Corruption in Our Midst
cfs-907-92000525 November 2010
If you haven't seen it or haven't seen it recently, it's well worth watching. Systemic fraud -- accountants, lawyers, regulators, investment banks, etc: "complicity across the board", "all too easy", accounting gimics, Alan Greenspan connections to the company, con man extraordinaire dissection of Jeff Skilling, massive egos, greed, lack of ethics among execs, connections with Bush family and Gray Davis downfall, testimony before House and Senate -- all well laid out in this documentary few years before the financial crisis hit: "Enron gambled entire future on the idea that its stock price wouldn't fall." Same rationale repeated a few years later with real estate as substitute. Doesn't offer much confidence that same exact thing is happening again in some form, papering over the losses from the the credit crisis with something else...

Warning though: your blood will be boiling by the end of it.
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10/10
Ken Lay And The Good People Of Enron (Yeah Right!)
virek21324 April 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Were it not for the fact that its collapse led to over twenty thousand employees being pink-slipped, the situation involving Enron might very well be considered a black comedy. Unfortunately, the corporate shenanigans of its morally bankrupt potentates, to wit Andy Fastow, Jeffrey Skilling, and, last but not least, the late (but not lamented) Ken Lay, led to what was, in its time (late 2001/early 2002) the single biggest corporate failure in the history of the United States, and a sign of what was to come in the next seven years. This saga is told here in writer/director Alex Gibney's compelling, and at times infuriating, documentary ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM.

Taken from the book of the same name by Peter Elkind and Bethany McLean, this film details the rise of the Houston-based energy giant and how it manipulated its finances to hide the fact that it was a house of cards ready to collapse for several years before it did. Even more than that, however, the film shows us just how Lay and his boys, with the always-reliable help of his deregulator-in-chief George W. Bush, manipulated energy prices and the energy grid in California to produce the rolling blackouts that caused electrical costs to skyrocket, thus putting the world's seventh biggest economy in a $38 billion hole from which it has yet to re-emerge.

Gibney, with able assistance from narrator Peter Coyote (remembered as the mysterious "Keys" in E.T.: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL), wisely interviews those Enron employees who knew what was going on inside the bowels of their company but were powerless to do anything, and thus makes them sympathetic. But he also gives us those phone calls in which Enron traders chuckled profanely about the pain and suffering their shutting off of power plants caused Californians during one of the hottest summers on record, something that'll definitely cause one's blood to boil.

If we need any reminder of how important ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM is, it comes from one of those unemployed Enron employees who warns us that what happened to them and their company would happen again. Need I say more?
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10/10
Economists of the world , unite !
antileft11 March 2010
Whoever wants to understand the roots of today's economic melt-down , must see this documentary,which must be viewed as a veritable document not only of an era that unfortunately DID NOT go away, but especially of the limitless potential of human greed and evil ,where every trick is studied and implemented , all then packaged in nebulous and vague ,but socially accepted and desired 'wrappings ' like intelligence, genius , bravery ,thinking outside the box , as was the Enron's main motto- Ask why. It is unbelievable how easily financial control simply fails, as a good marriage – read connections-read blat , 'fakelaki' etc.-is enough to change everything held secret,untouchable by societies through the time immemorial -the law ,which is the basic and only bulwark against chaos and barbarism , which , again , seems to be sweeping across the board , continents and races.I am eagerly waiting for Enron's spiritual brother, that is a documentary , based on the life and time of the greatest crook in history – B. Madoff, where the special emphasis should be given to the complete lack of any control ,where the supervisory body even got to be terribly afraid of the aforementioned 'genious '- the word by the way denotes an evil spirit ! - with the degree in –what else – economics,which is willy-nilly obviously the socially desired 'education 'for the totally wicked and really totally degenerated and basest in humanity the world over.As if the sadists won long long time ago…
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8/10
A Documentary Depicting the Sort of Slick, Stunning, Witty Con Games For Which We Love To See Ocean's Eleven, Heist, Entrapment, or The Great Train Robbery...
jzappa28 October 2008
I personally cannot stand arrogant, ego-drunk, machismo-frustrated, spoiled rotten white nerds-with-a-'tude like Jeff Skilling. If you peel back the thin coat of academic and financial success, he is precisely the type of guy that creates viruses for computers and banks and e- mail accounts who cum off the feeling of instigating the panic and disturbance of masses by sitting at a keyboard with a scantily dressed call girl over his lap, spanking her with the other hand, snorting coke off her cleavage when he has a few seconds to look away from the screen of complicated numbers and abbreviations.

Alex Gibney's documentary is a crime procedural. It's fashioned in a way in which it primarily entertains, what with very familiar songs over the soundtrack with tongue-in-cheek relevance and the subject of the biggest white collar confidence scheme in history. Regardless of a viewer's politics, this will make you relish the image of what must be happening to these guys in prison. It's about how ENRON grew to be one of the largest corporations with what was fundamentally a scheme to rob Peter to pay Paul, and ultimately ransacked the retirement funds of its employees just to prolong the inevitable.

There's a notion that ENRON was a group of decent businessmen gone bad. The movie make the case that it was a con game almost from the start, much to the tune of a Mamet script. At the time CEOs Ken Lay and Skilling claimed that they were running the best energy company in the entire world, they had to know that it had been bust and of no value for years, had exaggerated its profits and covered up its losses by the simplistically clever bookkeeping practices so corrupt that their accounting firm was ruined.

They evidently bragged constantly about being exceptionally smart and clever, but Skilling and Lay were the opposite of cautious. When a market analyst makes an inquiry into ENRON's statements during a conference call, Skilling can't answer and just settles for cursing the guy out, which, if someone with such sense and facility could just try to conceive, causes a lot of gossip and unwanted heat. One approach was to create fictitious offshore corporate names and move their deficits to those accounts, which were off the books. They are named with wild and thoughtless haste, one of them being "M. Yass."

In what did ENRON deal, really? That is what I wasn't sure of till I saw this. I read at one point that they were a natural gas company. But then they were in the electricity market. This film depicts them as they essentially created a market in energy, laid bets on it and stage- managed it. They moved on, even genuinely taking into consideration trading weather. What was this company's product, I ask? The answer turns out to be keeping a high share price no matter what. We find out that its traders, mostly young white guys who gradually gain a lot of control and become high-stakes high-tech gamblers, lost the whole business in bad trades, and concealed their deficit by burying the news and creating counterfeit profit reports that propelled the share price even higher!

In a sense, this documentary depicts the sort of slick, stunning, witty con games for which we love to see fictitious feature films about them is itself a great insight into why we love those feature films, Ocean's Eleven, Heist, Entrapment, The Great Train Robbery. Why? An early justification is that the thieves are likable and their victims are somehow deserving. Untrue. In ENRON's case, most of California were the victims! But why do we chuckle at the slickness of it? It actually happened!

The movie is amassed of a plethora of footage, from testimony at congressional hearings, and interviews with disillusioned ENRON people. It's at its best when it sticks to factual footage, least when it goes for visual effects and representative inserts which give it more of the feel of a Discovery Channel special.

Bethany McLean played a role in exposing the scandal, and she is so cute and poised, with such a soft, tender voice and a doe-like disposition. I chuckle when I imagine how innocent she must have sounded when she asked a simple question about ENRON's quarterly statements, and suddenly their whole "house of cards" started tumbling.

Most appalling is how ENRON contemptuously concocted the fake California energy crisis. Doesn't it sound so fun to say this after hearing about it: "But there never was a shortage of power in California." Using recordings of traders calling California power plants, we alarmingly listen in on them shutting down for "repairs." They pushed the price of electricity up ninefold. Twists don't stop there. Wait till you see how Skilling futilely tried to slither away before the company went kaput.

It's silly that there hasn't been more rage over these swindles and crises. The cost was immeasurable, not just in deaths caused by the blackouts, but in the amount of money for which Californians sued to regain what they paid in overcharges during the fake crisis. If ENRON were instead Al Qaeda, or Hammas, if terrorists had staged blackouts and power failures all throughout the enormous state, reflect on how we'd look upon these same scandals. Nevertheless the crisis, made doable by deregulation persuaded by ENRON's lobbyists, is still being laid at the door of too much regulation.
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What do you mean we're bankrupt?
tieman6414 April 2011
Warning: Spoilers
William Muir, an animal breeder at Purdue University, once conducted an experiment in which hens were selected for egg productivity using two different selection methods. The first method involved selecting the most productive hens from different cages to breed the next generation of hens, whilst the second method involved selecting the most productive cages and using all the hens within those cages for breeding.

At first glance it may seem as though the first method should prove more efficient. After all, eggs are produced by individual hens, so why not directly select the best? Why select at the group level, when even the best groups may have some individual duds? The results, though, told a completely different story. The first method caused egg productivity to sharply decline, even though the most productive hens were chosen each at every generation. The second method, in contrast, caused egg productivity to increase 160 percent in six generations, an astonishing response as artificial selection experiments go.

What happened? In short, the first method favoured the nastiest hens who achieved their productivity by suppressing the productivity of other hens. After six generations, Muir had produced a nation of psychopath chickens, who plucked and murdered each other with their greedy, incessant attacks. In other words, traits that are "for the good of the group" are not always locally advantageous within the group and require a process of group-level selection to evolve.

It's the same story in "Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room", a documentary about a nest of continuously promoted corporate psychopaths who fiscally rape shareholders and competitors, before their hatchery completely self-destructs. Unfortunately, like most of these stories, "The Smartest Guys In The Room" never pushes beyond CEOs, managers and complicit middle men (though they are deservedly attacked) to point fingers at what are really systemic problems.

In a book titled "Systemantics", John Gall describes the nature of systems, and how they often eventually become living, breathing entities. Not only do they develop a sort of collective consciousness (or intelligence network), but they also develop the desire for growth, and mechanisms of self-preservation.

Of course a system can take many forms (a country, an organisation, a religion etc), but in each case they house similar methods of self-preservation. In the case of a country, Patriotism is the mechanism of self-preservation. In an organisation, it is allegiance to a cause. In a religion, it is faith. In all cases, the adherents are bound within a collective organisational consciousness.

Eventually the ego-like qualities of this organisational consciousness cause each system to lust for even greater power. Greater power in turn requires more personnel, which requires even larger budgets, which in turn leads to a never ending spiral of growth. To justify this growth, these systems have no choice but to abandon the original purpose for which they were created. Thus, a moderate original goal must be replaced with a lofty objective embalmed in complex terminology that is designed to sound virtuous (in Enron's case, betting on off shore oil to keep shareholders happy). The elimination of evil, anarchy, crime, and war are just some buzzwords used to cover a drive for acquiring or maintaining power. In all cases, the objective requires growth.

This documentary damns Enron, but government bureaucracies play Enron's game as well. In the case of countries (today, of the largest 100 economies on the planet, 51 are corporations and not countries), the lack of profits which would keep a private company in check does not serve as a restriction for a system that can extract taxes as needed from a captive regional or global population. Even if commercial activity declines as a result of excessive taxation, the tax supported systems continue to grow (and often currencies are then expanded worldwide in a global competition of debasement). And as taxes increase, so too must patriotism by a corresponding amount to avoid insurrection. In some cases, the practical justification for a tax supported system disappears all together, leaving behind nothing but the naked lust for power. With its own language, its own culture, and its own survival mechanisms, the system then feels that complete domination is the only objective worthy of its inflated sense of Self. End result: the world falls under the control of tax supported psycho chickens who have the strength, and the motive, to rob almost every person on the planet...until they don't, and we laugh at them with documentaries like this.

8/10 - Worth one viewing.
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8/10
mark to market?
widescreenguy19 September 2007
these guys sure were smart. smart about who the real 'mark' was. including enron employees, SEC officials, customers, the entire state of California, and investors who fell for the constant wash of new investment ideas.

how do you sell futures in the weather ???? w.c. fields said it best, there's a sucker born every minute.

these guys were so smart they outsmarted themselves. they were so ingrained with their greed and evil schemes of fraud and theft, they lost sight of the truth and began believing their own lies, like a true psycho-sociopath.

the damage they wrought is incalculable in terms of reputations and lives ruined, retirements shattered and indeed lives lost from the MAN MADE power 'shortages' during fatal heat waves in California. the cold bloodedness of the enron traders making quips about 'aunt Millie' suffering without electricity to run the air conditioner shows the extent some people will go to make money.

'mark' to market. logging profits that haven't happened yet. apparently someone in the SEC didn't read the story about 'dont count your chickens before they hatch'.

the ONLY time people, the O-N-L-Y time you MAKE MONEY in the market is when you SELL the instrument and turn it into CASH. anything else is just wishes and dreams and fantasy on paper. numbers on PAPER. the enron gang cleverly worked around that axiom and look at all the people who fell for it and will in another 15 or 20 years when the lesson has been forgotten and the tendency towards greed again kicks in on a nice big scale.
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7/10
Interesting case study in arrogance and greed
cherold18 February 2009
In spite of some Errol Morris-style gimmickry, this is an engrossing documentary of how a corrupt company managed to pull the wool over a lot of gullible eyes before crashing and burning. It's an interesting story, told well. For me, it focused a bit too much on the pure criminality of what happened. To me it seems there are inherent problems in companies whose only business is speculating on products, as opposed to actually having a product or service of their own. The movie doesn't really get much into the larger context though, and I would have liked more of a sense of how Enron fits into the larger financial world than I got. Particularly since by the time I saw the film the whole economy had collapsed. This movie showed the dangerous of a corrupt corporate culture, but it's as though they just shone a flashlight on Enron and stuff near it, rather than a spotlight that could have lit up the whole thing. I'm not saying this isn't a good movie, just that a larger context would have made it a better one.
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8/10
Like the Wolf of Wall Street only less glamorous.
david-sarkies31 March 2014
I guess the Enron collapse, and the other corporations that collapsed around the same time (such as Worldcom) were sort of a harbinger of the crisis that was to arise in 2008, however just as with the events that surrounded Enron, it seems that the response to the global financial crisis was simply to sweep the problem under the table, make sure the stock market starts rising again, and go on as if nothing had happened. However, the case of Enron is similar to this whole farcical system that is the modern market, and that is that the health of a company is determined by the growth in profits, and in turn the growth in the share price.

The funny thing is that we were look at the growth in the share price of a company, or their reported earnings, there is one thing we don't actually see, and that is inflation. There are other ways of increase profits without actually increasing the earnings or the customer base, and that is to cuts costs. One can actually grow profits (and even earnings) without actually increasing the customer base, and that is one of the massive cons of the market. There is much that I could say about this issue, however I think I will simply focus of the Enron fraud in this instance.

Enron, like many modern corporations, is effectively a farce. It only exists to make money and its only reported goals are profit growth and its success if measured by the value of the company. However a company's value is a vary dubious quantifier as there is a lot that cannot be measured. A company's value can be measured by the value of its assets and by its actual earnings (which is quantifiable because that can be measured), however one can also add an intangible factor called 'goodwill', which is the reputed reputation of the company, and then there is future earnings. Future earnings, as the name implies, are earnings that may come in in the future, but because they are in the future they are merely speculative. However what Enron did was to base its current value on these future earnings though a method called mark to market accounting. The problem is that if these earnings don't arise then the value of the company comes into question.

However, what Enron did was that they kept on creating these wonderful ideas and deals (such as bandwidth trading, which never eventuated, or video on demand, which also did not eventuate as the technology was not sufficient to allow at at that time), and when they began to dry up, they began to manipulate the market itself. This is thus the cause of the California rolling blackouts. It was not that deregulation did not work, it is that deregulation was being exploited to drive up the price of electricity. Power plants were being shut down, and blackouts and brownouts created to create the appearance that there was not enough power, and in response the price of electricity was being forced up. I remember that at the time we were simply watching it as the failure of deregulation, however as it turned out it was a lot more sinister than that.

What is interesting though is that this documentary reminded me a lot of the Wolf of Wall Street, however this had a much stronger focus on the human cost and the actions of the people at the top of the tree, were as the other film was more glamorising what was in effect a crocked and greedy individual.
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8/10
Hard hitting & Informative
dylanbrown-302-43745626 February 2012
I'll be the first to say, that I'm not totally clued up on the world of business, especially in terms of utilities and power, but I have to say that this film is a highly informative and hard hitting film that anyone, no matter what their interest, should find highly compelling.

At it's heart, it exploits the downfalls and pitfalls of the Enron Corporation - arguably the most catastrophic bankruptcy in the history of the united states, with the redundancies of tens of thousands of employees worldwide, the crashing of stock (which it should be added staff heavily invested their own personal funds and pensions in), but not all before the MD's had all cashed in at it's amazingly high price.

It contains past-employees accounts of the way the corporation was run, their opinions on Jeff Skilling and the fact that, at the hear of it, several senior figures within the company knew of it's downfalls. It makes for very compelling viewing at this 'highly stylised', which was nothing more than a very, very large pyramid scheme.

At the start, I probably would've given this title a miss, but honestly, just watch a few minutes and I'm sure you'll be lured in - it makes for very interesting viewing.
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8/10
Good Doc!
doubleshoot1 November 2011
I'll be the first to admit that this film is good but not great about ENRON. All politics aside, I was just left hanging in the balance wanting MORE. Though I can appreciate their limited access to outside footage and English-speaking counterparts, certain scenes tended to drag on a bit and left me wondering what could have been.

That said, per my subject heading, I feel that this should be REQUIRED viewing for any concerned citizen grappling with the media coverage and news-spin of this and all other wars. Much like BRAVO's "Anatomy Of A Scene", the unfolding of the 'end of the war' and the subsequent toppling of Saddam's statue in the square both serve as serious examples of the news coverage of ENRON vs. 'The Big Boys'. It's just completely different when seen through the intelligent, capable eyes of the Al-Jazeera staff (than the Enron Boys) than what we're spoon-fed by Fox, et. al. Check it out...... Really.....
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7/10
Not bad for an accounting-irregularity movie
ProfSpielberg29 January 2011
Overall I found this to be a decent recap of the Enron saga, or at least the pre-trial portion thereof. However the film is necessarily simplistic, and there's a high dose of cable-documentary cheese (re- enacted funerals, gratuitous topless dancers, inappropriate Oingo Boingo songs, etc.) I have not read the McLean/Elkind book yet but just re-watched this DVD. A few of their interviewees are irrelevant (Kevin Phillips; a consumer watchdog person; the local priest). For some reason it is never explained that the blonde with the Merchant-Ivory accent arrived via Vinson Elkins, attorneys at law, although I think this is rather an important tidbit. With your average Mark Cuban production you could do far worse; I predict it will go over big with assistant professors of sociology in Santa Monica.

Rolled my eyes at the part about The Milgram Experiment, but did get a good laugh when the narrator described Gray Davis as a "then-likely Presidential candidate"
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7/10
Ask why
Gambitt8 May 2008
"Ask why" was Enron's enormously ironic marketing slogan for many years preceding its collapse, even as company officials ignored, shut out, and denigrated the few analysts, reporters, and employees who paused to ask why and how exactly the company was making money claimed in its earnings reports.

The film will make you shake your head at the gall of Enron, from its self-assured, overly confident executives to the merciless conduct of the energy traders bred within the company's cut-throat culture.

The film discusses the casualties of the Enron fallout, from its employees, its stockholders, retirees who held Enron shares, the entire state of California and Gov. Gray Davis himself.

The film provides a scathing criticism of capitalism unleashed, an aspect that I believe is most overlooked in the wake of Enron, Worldcom, and Tyco. The film, as did most media reports, focused on the personal conduct of the key players, the high-power executives now mired in civil and criminal proceedings: CEO Jeffrey Skilling, CEO Kenneth Lay (now deceased), and CFO Andrew Fastow.

While the conceit and deceit of these executives cannot be over-stated, so much emphasis on their individual culpability distracts from the overall culture of communal greed and reckless hype that saturated all of society during the late 1990s and early 2000s.

In the film, Sherron Watkins, a former Enron VP considered by some to be a whistleblower, commented: "Enron should not be viewed as an aberration, something that can't happen somewhere else . . . It can happen again."

Right now, we still live in the shadow of Enron, with heavy-handed oversight and finger-wagging politicians. The real challenge will be 10 or 20 years from now, when the country is experiencing its next major economic boom. Will analysts do their job and demand to see proper balance sheets? Will regulators turn a blind eye to questionable accounting practices? Will shareholders even care that puppetmasters may be manipulating the skyrocketing numbers?

Will ANYONE care so long as gobs of money are being made, until its too late? We humans have a very short memory, and history tends to repeat itself.

I would rate the documentary higher, except that I found much of the inserted pop-culture clips to be unnecessary, distracting, and gratuitous (five minutes of strippers?).
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Hey! Grow a set of Morals!
futures-113 November 2007
Documentary. Prepare to lose all hope that slime balls will grow a set of morals, the oversight committees and businesses are untouchable, the news has anything to do with verifying the truth, the whistle blowers get the attention they deserve or the respect of others, the punishment equals the crime, the poor guy gets his due, the government is effective, the government cannot be bribed, the… because NONE of this will ever happen, and Enron serves as the Icon of Evidence. It is thorough, well-done (a little too witty for its own good), entertaining, and, in the end, depressing as hell. Why? Because YOU KNOW where YOU ARE on the food chain, don't you?
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