Peter Coyote as the narrator
Ken Lay as himself
Jeff Skilling as himself
Andy Fastow as himself
Following in the wake of a year of hard-knock documentaries regarding the ills of the Republican Party and their fearless leader, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room is an effective documentary that recaps the dastardly deeds of a powerful Fortune 500 company and their downfall. There are three villains at the helm of this piece and the only protagonists are the faceless masses that were taken for a ride by the Enron Corporation as it came crumbling down in mid-2001.
The Enron story is not an unfamiliar one to those who follow the national news and two Fortune Magazine writers, Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, compiled the entire sordid story into a 400-plus page book. Documentarian Alex Gibney has now adapted the unwieldy book into an extremely fascinating movie that deals with the greediness of those running the company.
Instead of glossing over the technical speak, director Gibney has made a film that will easily confuse most in the audience as it describes the slack accounting tricks Enron pulled in its heyday. It’s easy to lose a viewer during these precise moments, but as the film starts to go track with these moments, the human element kicks in by profiling the three who led the company to its great downfall.
The film presents Ken Lay, CEO of the corporation during its height, as power-hungry leader; his evil smirk pervades through the entire film and director Gibney paints him as an agile villain whose incompetence got the better of him. Lay isn’t showcased as much as Jeff Skilling; Gibney makes Skilling out to be the one who transformed the company into the hot commodity it was before it crashed. His transformation from introvert to leader of a Fortune 500 company is depicted masterfully and is one of the highlights of the film. The fall guy comes in the form of Andy Fastow whose accounting techniques formed the basis of how Enron did business.
The film is ultimately effective because of the human element involved. By profiling more people than abysmal acts of the company, the documentary moves along at a brisk pace. Some of the more interesting events discussed in the film range from ties to the Bush administration (Bush refers to Lay as “Kenny Boy”) to Enron’s involvements in the Southern California blackout.
Director Gibney give the piece a very smooth, clean feel by giving Peter Coyote the task of narrator. His voice glides the film along fantastic vistas of Enron’s gigantic corporate headquarters in Houston, Texas. These views continue throughout the movie showcasing the huge scope the company enveloped. It helps make the movie seem more mature and polished, unlike many of the political docs that emanated from last year’s election. This movie is more akin to the Corporation than Bush’s Brain
Though the film is a tad bit on the long side, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room is an able look into the minds of corrupt men and the motives behind the madness.