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Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)

Not Rated | | Documentary | 20 May 2005 (USA)
A documentary about the Enron corporation, its faulty and corrupt business practices, and how they led to its fall.


Alex Gibney


Alex Gibney, Bethany McLean (book) | 1 more credit »

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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 3 wins & 10 nominations. See more awards »


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Credited cast:
John Beard John Beard ... Himself - Former Enron Accountant
Tim Belden Tim Belden ... Himself (archive footage)
Barbara Boxer ... Herself (archive footage)
George W. Bush ... Himself (archive footage)
James Chanos ... Himself - President, Kynikos Associates (as Jim Chanos)
Dick Cheney ... Himself
Bill Clinton ... Himself (archive footage)
Carol Coale Carol Coale ... Herself - Ex-Stock Analyst, Prudential Securities
Peter Coyote ... Narrator
Gray Davis ... Himself - Former Governor of California
Reggie Dees II Reggie Dees II ... Himself - Young man the stripper dances in front of (as Reggie Deets II)
Joseph Dunn Joseph Dunn ... Himself - California State Senator
Max Eberts Max Eberts ... Himself - Former Spokesman, Enron Energy Services
Peter Elkind Peter Elkind ... Himself - Co-Author, 'The Smartest Guys in the Room'
Andrew Fastow Andrew Fastow ... Himself (archive footage)


Enron dives from the seventh largest US company to bankruptcy in less than a year in this tale told chronologically. The emphasis is on human drama, from suicide to 20,000 people sacked: the personalities of Ken Lay (with Falwellesque rectitude), Jeff Skilling (he of big ideas), Lou Pai (gone with $250 M), and Andy Fastow (the dark prince) dominate. Along the way, we watch Enron game California's deregulated electricity market, get a free pass from Arthur Andersen (which okays the dubious mark-to-market accounting), use greed to manipulate banks and brokerages (Merrill Lynch fires the analyst who questions Enron's rise), and hear from both Presidents Bush what great guys these are. Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


It's just business. See more »




Not Rated | See all certifications »

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Release Date:

20 May 2005 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Black Magic See more »

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Technical Specs




Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


Among the protesters who disrupt the meeting with Jeff Skilling at San Francisco's Commonwealth Club is Marla Ruzicka. The former Global Exchange activist founded CIVIC (Campaign for Innocent Victims of Conflict), which worked to help the victims of the war in Iraq. She died in Iraq on April 16, 2005, the victim of a suicide bombing. See more »


Jeffrey Skilling: Oh I can't help myself. You know what the difference between the state of California and Titanic? And this is being webcast, and I know I'm going to regret this - at least when the Titanic went down, the lights were on.
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User Reviews

Unfettered Hubris Drives Intriguing Account of Enron Scandal
17 April 2008 | by EUyeshimaSee all my reviews

Even after reading Kurt Eichenwald's "Conspiracy of Fools: A True Story", I was not prepared for the near-Greek tragedy presented in this smartly produced documentary of the Enron scandal based on yet another book by journalists Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind. Directed by Andy Gibney, the 2005 film follows the complicated rise and fall of Enron in an easy-to-follow, chronological order since the mid-1980's, using actor Peter Coyote's lucid voice-over narration. Enron started as a moderate-sized Houston gas-pipeline company that grew exponentially, reaping benefits for shareholders and far more so for the Enron executive team for a long, uninterrupted stretch. Billions of dollars were collected due to speculative mark-to-market accounting techniques approved by the SEC, and Enron consequently became one of the world's largest natural-gas suppliers.

What resonates most from this searing film is how circumstantially pathological the chief villains are in this true corporate morality story. While the infamous Ken Lay comes across as the corrupt figurehead we have already come to know through news reports, it's really Enron CFO Andy Fastow (dubbed appropriately "The Sorcerer's Apprentice") and especially President and COO Jeff Skilling, who are mercilessly exposed here. Skilling is portrayed as a brilliant leader and a corporate Darwinist, whose favorite book is Richard Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene", which he apparently translated into a bloodless performance review policy that worked like a genetic algorithm for people. Employees were rated on a 1-5 scale based on the amount of money one made for the company. Skilling mandated that between 10-15% of employees had to be rated as 5's (worst). And to get a rating of 5 meant that one was immediately fired. This review process was dubbed "rank and yank". Such was a typical example of his survivalist thinking.

The corruption spread throughout the company, as Enron was responsible for, among other things, gaming the Northern California "rolling blackouts" in 2001, whereby the company profited as huge parts of the state were plunged into darkness. Citizens were threatened by a deregulation plan that essentially enabled a number of immoral Enron traders (led by Tim Belden) to place calls that drove up energy-market prices and took advantage of power-plant shutdowns. Of course, the Bush family dynasty does not come across unscathed in the Enron story and justifiably so according to their inextricable ties to Lay. Gibney effectively uses video footage from testimony at congressional hearings, as well as interviews with disillusioned former employees such as Mike Muckleroy and whistle-blower Sherron Watkins (who uses some effective pop culture references like "Body Heat" and Jonestown to get her points across).

There are some amusing vignettes and images that tie some of the disparate elements together with excessive glibness. The documentary is best when it sticks to the facts, for this is one inarguable case where fact is truly stranger than fiction. Extras are plentiful on the 2006 DVD. Gibney provides an informative albeit verbose commentary track, and four deleted scenes, about twenty minutes in total, are included that become redundant with the film's portrayal of corporate malfeasance. There is also a fourteen-minute making-of featurette, as well as a "Where Are They Now?" snippet on the principals and three separate conversations with McLean and Elkind on how they got the story, how they validated their findings, and their enthusiastic reaction to the film. Other bonus materials include Gibney reading from scripts of skits performed at Enron and a Firesign Theater sketch about Enron's demise, as well as Fortune Magazine articles written by McLean and Elkind and a gallery of editorial cartoons.

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