Corporate greed and hubris are tracked with sobering clarity in the riveting documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.
Adapted from Fortune Magazine writers Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind and helmed by Alex Gibney, there's a lot of insight into America's most innovative company which unveils capitalism taken down its darkest path. It's not only trenchant and tragic, but amusing in this accounting of corruptive corporate synergy, buying and selling of energy that led to rolling California blackouts.
This traditional, if unbalanced in its viewpoint, maneuvering of talking heads, archival footage, and some recreation, feels like an insider in the lowdown on what was back in 2001, the largest U.S. bankruptcy.
Son of a preacher, Ken Lay, dubbed "Kenny boy" by George W. Bush, was the creator of the company to become the world's seventh largest because of how it gambled on energy deregulation. The policy implementer was Jeffrey Skilling who's Harvard background didn't have to lend him to think that business could thrive on rapaciousness and avarice.
The documentary shows how the Bush campaign was boosted, though the President himself is more of a tangential figure. Some crafty accounting work, helped by banks and lawyers led to a mammoth debt and a monster born. Lay and Skilling, the film's "stars," were unwilling to participate, at least for legal reasons. But the shameless Lay makes the analogy of dissecting of Enron to the 9/11 attacks.
Many, not only in the financial side, are indicted as being part of the deregulating Texas con and profiting, like the chief officers who pocketed millions and created havoc on the lives of less important workers.
There's much to a story of cooked books and Wall Street optimism that provokes laughter and deep sadness. An Enron award is given to Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan and gullible employees are advised to invest their retirement plans into worthless stock that the top brass was unloading. And, California's political scene was affected by the state's manufactured energy crisis that had Lay meeting with future governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Enron energy traders were like pinball wizards and the drastic turnabouts of New Economy, "a house of cards, built over a pool of gasoline," goes to show that this unethical inflation of Glengarry Glen Ross could happen again.
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