Enron was an inevitable choice for a theatrical documentary, but director Alex Gibney has taken the next step by going beyond the crimes of Enron and looking at the people that led to such crimes. "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room" is this year's "Bowling for Columbine."
Much like Michael Moore's masterpiece that won an Academy Award a few years ago, "Enron" blends fact, humor and most often insight into the minds of the criminals in a way that feels seamless and nearly perfect. "Enron" isn't nearly as funny as "Columbine," but that's okay. It's still entertaining, intelligent and most of all informative.
As a business student I knew the surface facts about the Enron scandal, where in 2001 the energy giant posted a massive $618 million loss in the third quarter. As analysts looked more and more into the accounting practices of the company, it became clear that Enron had been reporting non-existent profits, had been responsible for the California electricity shortages and that many of the executives, the "smartest guys in the room," were covering it up. Combined with the aftershock of September 11, the stock market plummeted, over 4,000 employees lost their jobs and their 401(k)'s and so on and so forth. Okay, but how did it come to this? Why did it come to this? Who is still out there that raises questions? These are the questions that the movie answers.
This is a movie that every high school student (and every business student) should watch. It explains so much while pressing on the lack of ethical understanding the various players in the scandal had. Albeit, for high school students, there's a bit of nudity that might need to be edited out - but don't worry, there's no shots of Ken Lay in his birthday suit.
As a business graduate, my professors pushed us again and again on ethics on the job. While most people would never go to the extremes that the Enron executive went to, the movie shows just how easy it is to slip into an unethical situation, and once you make one lie, you make another lie to cover that first one up, and so on and so forth. Of course, Enron went much further than anyone expected, but you get the point.
"Enron" does get a bit long-winded near the end as it takes a look at the proceedings that took place after the fall of the company - proceedings that most people know about. Of course, in a couple of years high school students won't know nearly as many details, and I definitely recommend this film to all teachers - and non-teachers. "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room" will undoubtedly be one of the best documentaries of the year.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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