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Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room | Review

Pulling the Plug

Gibney looks past the numbers, and into the personalities of those responsible for the biggest tumble in corporate American history.

Like in Scarface’s Tony Montana, Enron’s kingpins Ken Lay, Jeffrey Skilling and Andrew Fastow didn’t know when to cash in their chips or have a clue as to how to cover their tracks. Fudging the numbers of potential future profits and having a positive outlook on your company’s prospectus is one thing, but committing massive fraud, grand-scale larceny and creating an energy crisis will get even the brightest of folks in hot water, actually make that inferno, lava-temperature scorching firewater. When the cookie crumbles it falls apart in sections and Alex Gibney’s fine-tuned, well-constructed documentary is meant less for those who were affected and are still suffering today and more for those who were unaffected by and know only morsels of the Enron she-bang.

Unfathomable business practices makes for one hell of a screenplay and Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room is an informative, straightforward, fascinating look into the blackened hearts and minds of corporate greed. Based on the book by authors Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind who are also talking heads in the film, this like the Bre-X scandal, shows how the chain in commands CEO’s tampered with stock prices for personal gain – not just skimming a little pocket change but banking enough green to buy a couple of countries in the south Pacific. Relaying the timeline of events by way of talking heads, documented footage and a well-paced editing, Gibney speaks to the right people, shows the best lie-thru-your-teeth stockholder’s meetings footage and the structures the circumstantial events in such a way, that even if this is past news and offers no new facts it is still enough to make any viewer’s blood boil.

Edited with amusing congressional hearing archive footage of Skilling on the stand, the doc does a lot more finger pointing and of blaming than originally anticipated. Gibney shows that the bandwagon of greed included many banks, investors and not surprisingly, the Bush family manages to make it back to back years as silver-screen personalities. Much in the same manner in which Tarantino influenced a generation of filmmakers with his filmmaking style, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room is perhaps one of the best offspring examples of Michael Moore’s documentary camera versus the world corporate technique and is the sort of film that bothers to “ask why” corporate Darth Vaders are doing the things that they do.

Rating 3.5 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at IONCINEMA.com, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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