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Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

4.3 8
Director: Alex Gibney

Cast: Peter Coyote


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Alex Gibney, who wrote and produced Eugene Jarecki's The Trials of Henry Kissinger, examines the rise and fall of an infamous corporate juggernaut in Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, which he wrote and directed. The film, based on the book by Fortune Magazine reporters Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, opens with a reenactment of the suicide of Enron


Alex Gibney, who wrote and produced Eugene Jarecki's The Trials of Henry Kissinger, examines the rise and fall of an infamous corporate juggernaut in Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, which he wrote and directed. The film, based on the book by Fortune Magazine reporters Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, opens with a reenactment of the suicide of Enron executive Cliff Baxter, then travels back in time, describing Enron chairman Kenneth Lay's humble beginnings as the son of a preacher, his ascent in the corporate world as an "apostle of deregulation," his fortuitous friendship with the Bush family, and the development of his business strategies in natural gas futures. The film points out that the culture of financial malfeasance at Enron was evident as far back as 1987, when Lay apparently encouraged the outrageous risk taking and profit skimming of two oil traders in Enron's Valhalla office because they were bringing a lot of money into the company. But it wasn't until eventual CEO Jeff Skilling arrived at Enron that the company's "aggressive accounting" philosophy truly took hold. The Smartest Guys in the Room explores the lengths to which the company went in order to appear incredibly profitable. Their win-at-all-costs strategy included suborning financial analysts with huge contracts for their firms, hiding debts by essentially having the company loan money to itself, and using California's deregulation of the electricity market to manipulate the state's energy supply. Gibney's film reveals how Lay, Skilling, and other execs managed to keep their riches, while thousands of lower-level employees saw their loyalty repaid with the loss of their jobs and their retirement funds. The filmmaker posits the Enron scandal not as an anomaly, but as a natural outgrowth of free-market capitalism.

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Ed Hulse
At this writing in early 2006, the principal players in the sordid drama of Enron -- believed by some accusers to be the most egregious corporate malefactors in American history -- are about to go on trial for pillaging their company and devaluing its stock, leaving thousands of employees and investors holding the bag while they absconded with millions. Alex Gibney's documentary examines the meteoric rise and spectacular fall of this Houston, Texas-based firm, which for a time made its top officers wealthy beyond their wildest dreams, and all by engaging in business practices alleged to have been little more than a complex shell game. Enron founder Ken Lay and his successor as CEO, Jeff Skilling, are pretty well skewered in Gibney's film, which in its own way is every bit as riveting as a suspense thriller. Without putting too fine a point of it, the film has all the elements of Greek tragedy; it is hubris that ultimately brings down the main characters. Arrogance, pride, power, the abuse of power -- they're all here. Even if you've been following the story in the media, there are dimensions to the Enron tale of which you're probably unaware. The Smartest Guys in the Room will clue you in, and we predict you'll be amazed by the facts it presents.
All Movie Guide
This quietly devastating documentary is one of the most effective indictments of the big-business mentality ever committed to film. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room succeeds because it never goes overboard in manipulating the viewer. Instead, it treats the rise and fall of Enron with clinical precision, using interviews and copious file footage to lay out the facts of the case and allowing viewers to come to their own conclusions. The end result is a scary documentation of how the profit-first approach of companies like Enron has led to a situation where all the components of the business machine are tainted with corruption. Indeed, the most upsetting part of Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room is discovering the company's founders were allowed to keep their schemes afloat for so long because they were able to buy off business analysts and major lending institutions. As a result, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room is fascinating viewing -- both as an exploration of big business's inner workings and also as a true crime story.

Product Details

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[Wide Screen, Color]

Special Features

Feature commentary with writer/director Alex Gibney; Higher definition: Enron episode (1080i)

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Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
the_protagonist1 More than 1 year ago
This is an eye openning documentary about how corporate culture can really make people do scandalous things. The people involved with this company are so excentric it becomes entertaining. It was adapted from the book of the same name. Review written by Curt Wiser, author of suspense novels.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am currently a college student taking accounting and we had to watch this movie in class a few days ago. I must say that after learning about annual reports and the financial reports that are supposed to be made and audited it was amazing to see how the people at Enron made a mockery of the simple standard financial principles. The docu made me laugh some times (Lou Pai's stripper escapades) and at the same time made me so angry at how they gambled away peoples' lives. This is defiantely something that should be showed in all business and accounting classes from now on!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room had a bit of a rough start. Although intriguing, it failed to deliver the rough sketch of the Enron scandal quick enough. I'll shamefully admit that I had forgotten most of the details of the Enron scandal, as I was in college when it broke and I didn't care too much about it at the time. But, once the overall story had been discussed, this documentary did a fairly good job of telling a compelling narrative and trying to explain the rather complicated financial wizardry that was ultimately the corporation's downfall. The depictions of Skilling were very clear and it was nice to see a woman was at the heart of breaking the story and writing the movie (which was based on a book she co-wrote). Amusing use of music and title-cards kept the pace quick, and unlike Michael Moore's documentaries, this one was actually full of well presented facts. I'd definitely recommend seeing this movie, especially because it reveals yet another reason to hate W and his administration. I wish more people were interested in this kind of reporting and that our day-to-day media was this intellectually engaging.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was particularly interested in seeing this documentary as my local electric company, Portland General Electric was bought by Enron in the mid 1990s. Our electric rates went up 35% and businesses got a 50% increase. As I sat in the theater watching this film I was mesmerized by what had gone on at that company. How could such intelligent people be corrupted so badly. The film at times made me laugh but mostly it made me angry. If you're like me and know very little about the world of big business don't worry. This film does a great job of explaining how things worked at Enron. One of the most fascinating aspects of the film is when it takes a look at the personalites of some of the top executives at Enron. This film is also an important look at how deregulation rarely lived up to the promise of more competition and lower prices for consumers. I was so fascinated by this film I went out and bought the book which I am currently reading. The only question I still have is where the heck did all the taxes go that we paid to PGE who passed them on the Enron who in turn never paid them to the state and the feds?
Guest More than 1 year ago
This documentary works because the blame is not placed on all the suits. We, the consumers, driving the ever-expanding economy, are thrown under the bus. Lower prices? Higher profit? The movie asks us if these are the best reasons for doing business. Should we strive for other "successes?" Great questions. Skillfully edited. A treat.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago