"Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room"
A review by Gary Chew
|Webmaster (Mike Ransom): This movie was based on
Smartest Guys In The Room, by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind. Mr
Elkind appeared in person at the Circle
Cinema here in Tulsa on 5/9/2005 to introduce a screening and meet
with filmgoers. He appears throughout the film.
I attended the event. The crowd more than filled the new Circle 2
One audience question concerned "mark to market" accounting, which counts
expected future profits as current earnings. When Enron first asked the SEC
for permission to use this method, they were turned down. However, the second
time, the SEC relented.
I asked Mr. Elkind if political pressure had somehow been brought to bear.
He said, no, Enron staged a full-court press at the second SEC hearing, led
by their high-powered CEO, Jeffrey Skilling.
Once "mark to market" was approved for Enron in 1992, the stage was set
for a fraud of mind-boggling scale...
This review should be read in tandem with my other comments about the newly
released film, Crash (just
reviewed by Chew on this site).
Im not suggesting a play on words with the title Crash
and what happened to Enron Corporation, but rather how very different two
good films can be and for what effect each is made.
Many films today are taking shape due to lack of real investigative documentary
reporting on television. The subjects are too hot for commercial TV and,
in some instances, even for noncommercial television. Ill make the
long list short: Fahrenheit
9/11 (also reviewed by Chew on this site), The
For the most part, theyre very satisfying for one audience while inflaming
another. Its not unlike whats been going on with AM talk radio
over the past twenty years or so, and more recently on some cable news channels.
People of a more reactionary persuasion have made those who are less reactionary
more so. Michael Moore and Air America Radio are two items which quickly
come to mind.
Its certainly not been a time for healing, and with this latest
documentary, Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room, theres
another divisive film playing at the mall. This one, however, is not as
inflammatory as Moores controversial movie, and its much less
a specifically political film in terms of left and right, but more so one
about right and wrong and why so many professional people in high, accredited
places didnt ask why enough about the glowing numbers Enron
fed its employees and the financial world.
Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling are the main attraction in the
film. And were blessed with Alex Gibney (who directed) not having
inserted himself into it asking hard questions of the principals in this
business debacle. Theres nobody named Roger in this one.
Some time is given over to Andrew Fastow, Enrons Chief Financial
Officer, who is now serving a prison sentence. Lay and Skillings trials
are scheduled for January 2006, at which time, Gibneys camera crew
will be rolling again for a sequel. This according to Gibney himself during
a question and answer session following the films screening in Sacramento
in late April.
Andrew Fastow pleaded guilty to two counts of wire and securities fraud
in January 2005, and agreed to cooperate with authorities. He is serving
a ten-year prison term without parole. His wife, Lea, is now serving a one-year
term for filing a false tax return.
1/27/2006 update: Lay and Skilling face charges of conspiracy and fraud.
Jury selection is scheduled to begin 1/30 in Houston.
5/25/2006 update from
News: Lay was convicted of all six counts of conspiracy and fraud and
faces a maximum of 45 years in prison. Skilling was found guilty of 19 counts
of conspiracy, fraud, insider trading and making false statements which,
combined, carry a maximum sentence of 185 years. He was not convicted of
nine criminal counts.
10/24/2006 update from
News: "At Monday's court hearing in which he received a 24-year prison
sentence, former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling remained defiant. 'I am innocent
of these charges,' he told U.S. District Judge Sim Lake. 'I'm innocent of
every one of these charges.' This is something of a pattern in the Enron
case. Skilling's predecessor and successor as CEO, Ken Lay, expressed similar
sentiments after his conviction in May. He later died of a heart attack."
10/24/2006: (from Boing Boing) The free online
"Enron Explorer" gives
you access to the body of 200,000 Enron emails released during the fraud
The most compelling parts of Enron come in two instances.
One is an employee of an Oregon public utility, owned by Enron, lamenting
his $350,000 retirement nest egg being diminished to a mere $1,200. And the
other, of course, the power crisis here in California, much of it due to
the commodities futures gaming lead by Enron after electricity was de-regulated
by the California Assembly during the administration of Governor Pete Wilson.
The former governor is now a chief advisor to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Gibney has used some recorded phone conversations of Enron employees as they
gleefully react to the bind in which Californians are placed by the power
black outs and brown outs. Moreover, with coverage that was cabled by C-SPAN,
Gibney is able to place important parts of Enron congressional hearings into
Director Alex Gibney also was
producer of "The Blues"
Another interesting feature of Enron is the occasional flashing
or crawling, at propitious moments, of Enron stock prices.
Theyre seen at the bottom of the screen, much like the cable news channels
The film, Crash is for healing. Enron: The Smartest Guys
In The Room is for revealing. And in doing so, it should remind us,
again, that capitalism is the best way to do business just like liberal democracy
is best way to govern and that, by far, employing honesty in both is the
best policy for all.
Id recommend seeing the Enron film first, then check out
Youll sleep better.
|Gary Chew spoke about "Enron: The Smartest Guys
In The Room" on KXJZ-Sacramento's program, "Insight", on 5/5/2005. The show
can be heard at the
archive for the next month. Director Gibney was also interviewed.
The Smartest Guys In The Room" on DVD.
"Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room"
Gary Chew can be reached via email at
Copyright © 2005, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.
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