A review of “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: *** 1/2

Rating: Not rated but should be R for nudity and profanity

Run Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

 

 

They only pretended to be the smartest guys in the room as we know from countless headlines and CNN news stories.  Sixty five billion dollars in assets to total bankruptcy in a pithy 24 days.

Arrogance, intolerance and greed were the downfall of one of the most powerful corporations in the nation.  Their demise took our innocence down with them; a powerful belief in a financial structure so omnipotent that employees and shareholders alike staked their life savings, and their lives, on it.

This is the cautionary tale of co-conspirators Kenneth Lay, Jeffrey Skilling, and CFO Andy Fastow, a smoke and mirrors triumph masking the ultimate human tragedy. Manned by America’s best and brightest, energy-trading Enron was the shining star in the constellation of big business. 

Behind the scenes the villainous powerbrokers were diverting company profits to personal accounts and manipulating earnings while continuing to market themselves as the decade’s biggest success story.

As the “incandescently brilliant” Skilling is burying debt and covering his tracks (not to mention profiting from California’s misery a la the energy crisis) and Fastow is pitching an impossible future to banking moguls their co-workers find themselves victims of their own hubris.

In the vein of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 (but less op-ed) Enron hones in on the rise and fall of the corporate titans with thrilling acumen and creative style.  Talking heads spout the shaky wisdom of pump-and-dump and de-regulation while director Alex Gibney organizes his narrative into catchy themes and manipulates his sobering footage with a snappy soundtrack and crisp editing techniques.

Peter Coyote narrates with a sardonic flair that wryly complements Enron and Co.’s horrific deeds.  Bethany McLean (author of the original Fortune magazine story that spawned the scandalous tell-all) is the calm in the middle of the storm, relaying details of her research with cool and collected charm.

This particular contemporary tragedy has been told and re-told and may seem repetitive to news junkies in the know. But exploring the darker side of human behavior is compelling and entertaining, leaving in its wake an acute sense of moral outrage.