The Good

An interesting and informative look at the people behind the scandal.

The Bad

I still don’t 100% understand how Enron was able to bilk people out of so much money. Repetitive “Special Features.”

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room is one of those 21st Century cautionary business tales. The kind of story that seems amazing, yet with truth being stranger than fiction, sadly happened. It is the story of a company called Enron that traded utilities, and in doing so created a situation where they had so much control, so much invested in their success that an illusion was created that they had actually achieved things that they hadn’t. Well nothing lasts forever and while the main players in the scandal, Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling and Andrew Fastow are the public faces of the criminal acts, they obviously had a little help. No, I am not apologizing for these fat cats, I just think that when a situation of greed is created, perpetrated and supported all in the name of good business, how can a situation like Enron not happen?

To be honest, I am still not 100% sure that I know what happened. Essentially, it seemed like everything depended on Enron’s stock price. As long as that was high, enough people benefited so that they didn’t rock the boat or ask any questions. It seemed like it wasn’t until certain analysts (who probably weren’t getting good) started wondering, that media organizations started writing and this created a snowball effect to ask a basic question. How does Enron make it’s money? The company had to be successful. There had to be money coming in order to pay employees and keep the general infrastructure afloat. Yet, I never got the sense that the movie really explained how this company even made payroll. It seemed like everything was an illusion which perhaps it was?

Features

Commentary Track

This is a commentary track with Writer/Director Alex Gibney. He breaks down the film for us and really explains the use of music. He discusses what he thinks is the real meaning of the term ”Ask Why?” , and in his own way goes about explaining the decisions he made when putting together this film. In all honesty, while I always like director’s commentary tracks, I think I could have done without this one. I just think this movie really speaks for itself and there are so many extras that some of what he talks about here seemed repetitive.

Deleted Scenes

With titles such as Silverpeak Incident and Ken Lay’s Indictment, for some reason I expected that there would be more deleted scenes than there were. I thought these were okay, but I am just not a fan of bonus scenes in a documentary. I just feel that the movie has been cut and tightly structured. Sometimes these sort of extras can confuse things, because it was on the cutting room floor for a reason, right? I don’t think this idea applies as much to narrative films as it does to documentaries.

Making Of

The Making of Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room spends a decent amount of time discussing how you make a movie about numbers accessible. The thing is what the creators of this movie realized was that it was more a film about “people” than anything else. This is at the heart of the movie as well because at the end of the day, the filmmakers and talking heads are trying to understand the Enron behavior. They also touch on getting people to talk because the scandal was so widespread, a great number of people were involved in legal proceedings that hindered their involvement.

Where Are They Now?

This is a good (if altogether uninteresting) expose on where so many of the major players in the scandal currently are. People like Lay and Skilling are awaiting trial, while others have tried to pick up the pieces of their lives. I think a really good counterpart to this featurette would have been a look at the people who didn’t work at Enron but were deeply affected by the companies actions. No matter how you slice this situation, nothing that happens to these guys is ever really going to make up for the breadth of their deception.

Conversations with Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind

These interviews are essentially deleted portions of what these people said that didn’t make it into the movie. As writers of the book “The Smartest Guys in the Room,” these two people bring an interesting and in-depth insight into the Enron scandal. In fact, McLean seems like one of the first (if not the first) journalists to really question this companies business practices. What intrigued them the most seemed to be the people involved, as well as the ideas of the companies actual numbers vs. it’s public perception as a successful business.

Higher Definition: The Enron Show

HDNET’s Higher Definition: Highlights From The Enron Show is another featurette that was a bit redundant here. It is essentially a puff piece news show that was created in some way with HDNET Films. This gives us McLean and Elkind again as they talk about the movie and how they wanted to make it relatable to the general public. While I don’t think they have done anything wrong per se, it seems interesting that something on the HDNET Channel would be giving praise to a movie that the channel somewhat made. In a roundabout way... sort of.

The Fall of Enron

Okay, the best I can I say about this is that it is a fairly involved radio skit that I just didn’t get. I am sorry, maybe I am not intelligent enough, I know that they were trying to use images of heaven and hell to depict Lay and Co., but most of this was just lost on me. View it for yourselves and let me know your thoughts.

Enron Skits; Enron Cartoons and Fortune Magazine articles

Director Alex Gibney reads Enron Skits and it’s kind of painful. I never liked sitting in a class where everyone read a section of a story aloud (I always read ahead and finished the story), but this guy makes the process almost painful. I appreciate the effort but it would have been better off to hear Gibney just talk about the skits and not perform them. The Enron Cartoons

are a series of somewhat hard to decipher jokes at the companies expense. It might have been my TV but I lost a lot of the punchlines in the visual presentation because things were so blurry. Still, I could make out a lot of them and they were pretty funny. Lastly, one can read the Fortune Magazine articles that actually got the ball rolling on the discovery of what was really happening at this company. You just need to click around with your DVD player’s remote and you can read the articles on the screen.

Video

1.78:1 - Widescreen. Enhanced for 16x9 televisions. This movie is a mix of news footage, archival footage and narrative storytelling. All of this combines together to create a tale that is part documentary, part narrative film and part character expose. While I am sure that some documentary purists will find fault with some of the staged scenes that this movie employs, I think that the scenes do nothing but highlight the situations. Sure, they evoke a mood or create a certain sense or idea that may or may not have existed, but there will never be a way to know 100% what really went on in the corridors of power at Enron.

Audio

English - 5.1 Dolby Digital. Subtitled in Spanish. With the amount of footage shot, in addition to all the other kinds of footage used, they have gotten the sound here to be pretty good. Sure you can hear little audio pops here and there, and there are sounds (like people’s lips slapping) that you don’t get in narrative films, but none of this detracts from the movie or the story that is being told. If anything, this mesh of sound and images really combines to make a film that is almost haunting in the tale that it’s telling.

Package

On the front cover, the name Enron is written across paper that is being shredded. Below that Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling and Andrew Fastow are all smiling. It’s a bit of a damning image but one that seems entirely appropriate. The back cover features two shots of Skilling, some critics quotes, a description of this movie, an in-depth “Special Features” listing, a credits list and some technical specs. This packaging is perfect in how it displays the idea of the Enron story. It looks like a money magazine that Mad Magazine might have designed.

Final Word

As I mentioned above, Lay, Skilling and Fastow are the public faces for the Enron crime. What about the other companies involved? What about everyone else who benefited and bankrolled this operation? I think what is the scariest part about this movie is the fact that it’s probably going to happen again with another large company. If this is the case, that means that something larcenous is taking place right now. And you know what, there doesn’t seem to be a thing anyone can do about it until it is much too late.

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room is one of those documentaries that is as entertaining as it is informative. I still don’t understand the whole story, I just know that a documentary like this at least tries to come up with some answers. It almost can’t explain everything because to fully understand the behavior of everyone involved might be the scariest business of all.

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room was released April 22, 2005.