Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
Time Out says
The last five-and-a-quarter years have been some of the most cracktastic in American history, which is good if you’re a corporate CEO or a hedge-fund manager or a maker of muckraking digital-video documentaries and very, very bad if you are anyone else. One of the most stupendously what-the-fuck episodes of the new Gilded Age was the implosion of the Houston-based Enron Corporation in late 2001 (somewhat obscured at the time by the smoke still rising from lower Manhattan). Okay, so the energy company headed by Jeffrey Skilling and President Bush’s close personal friend Kenneth Lay – known as ‘Kenny Boy’ to bosom buddy Dubya – made its cash from fraud (not crack!); it traded in fantasy futures, posted billions in mirage profits, reaped hundreds of millions in stock windfalls for its top executives, and counted 20,000 penniless employees and the state of California among its corporate-rape victims by the time it declared bankruptcy toward the close of Bush’s first year in office.
Directed by Alex Gibney, writer and producer on Eugene Jarecki’s ‘The Trials of Henry Kissinger’ (2002), ‘Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room’ charges swiftly through these events, as detailed in the book of the same name by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind. It’s a classical tragedy of greed and hubris, proceeding apace from rapacious entrepreneurship to frenzied, evil avarice to epic delusion.
The lay viewer– which is to say, the non-user of crack – might remain confused as to how Skilling, Kenny Boy, and their ilk could pocket so much cash out of thin air. But this unfussy talking-heads doc is nonetheless a solid primer, and when it delves into California’s energy crisis of 2000-2001, it provides a useful reminder of how the hell the Austrian-born star of ‘Conan the Destroyer’ became governor of the world’s sixth-largest economy. The die was cast when previous governor Gray Davis became the fall guy for the emergency, after amoral Enron traders (caught on tape) worked to shut down perfectly functional plants, create blackouts, and thus artificially ratchet up prices. Meanwhile, the trials of Skilling and Kenny Boy commenced this past January, and Skilling has optimistically pled innocent to all charges. Hey Jeff, pass that crack pipe!