Friday 5 December 2008

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005) - ickleReview (HD)

This documentary is based on the book by Peter Elkind and Bethany McLean. It retells the rise and fall of the Enron corporation by following the careers of its founder, chairman, and CEO, Kenneth Lay, and Jeffrey Skilling (president, CEO, and COO). It's an intriguing story because it is essentially a human drama. It is also a film about capitalism, the financial markets, fraud, and corporate greed - none of which is very surprising. In fact, there is an inevitability about the corruption, as if this sort of boom and bust is a natural side-effect of free-market economics. Enron's success sounded too good to be true; and it was too good to be true. The market eventually corrected Enron's inflated mark-to-market self-valuation, a scandalous accounting practice that allowed it to bank profits when a deal was made, before the income was guaranteed. If you create the culture in which bacteria and disease can prosper, then bacteria and disease will prosper. Many of the "innovations" Enron introduced into the financial system in the late nineties to early noughties are still causing problems for other companies in the 2008 monetary slowdown. The financial system has yet to develop immunity.

Although Lay and Skilling are in some senses detestable characters (to my liberal morals) there is something compelling and charismatic about them and their rise to power and wealth. There is something of the Gordon Gekko about them.

It's a slick, fast-moving documentary of talking heads, reconstructions, and stylish montages of stock market tickers, high-rise office blocks, and trading floors. There are some astounding audio tapes of Enron's traders' conversations about manipulating the California power grid during the rolling blackouts. Their greed and ruthlessness is disgusting, but compelling.

Nugget: a hugely enjoyable and interesting documentary, impeccably executed and through-provoking, without being overly polemical or moralizing.

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