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Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

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Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

Old 02-09-06, 09:42 AM
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Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

I recently rented this one. It's pitched as more even handed than the Michael Moore-type film and supposedly builds an unshakable case. This movie has been almost universally praised as a scathing, impartial indictment of Enron.

I dunno, there are lots of holes in the movie's evidence. It seems constructed from snippets of speeches, videotape and audio tape that could easily be taken out of context. The movie repeatedly resorts to the old tactic of taking offhand comments that are intended to be humorous seriously. Pointedly, no one ever asserts that anything we're seeing is illegal. Unethical and sneaky, maybe, but not against the law.

Also, the interviewees are clearly a self-selecting bunch: prosecuting attorneys, crusading politicians, bitter ex-Enron employees, Gray Davis etc. You know before they speak what side of the story they're going to portray. There are simply no dissenting voices. Everything is black and white: these were, we're told, evil, evil men bent on "raping" the world. One example: the supposed dastardliness of energy deregulation is just taken as fact using the example of California. It's simply never argued that what California went through was hardly true deregulation and more likely resulted from the exact opposite: bad regulation resulting in unforeseen consequences. Also, whenever Skilling, Lay or the other execs speak, an ominous bass tone is played, subtly underscoring their "evil".

The movie is clearly playing to like minded (anti-corporate, left wing) people. The old bugbear Reagan even makes a completely irrelevant appearance to whip up the congregation. When the movie tries to spin the story of Enron as an indication of the supposedly disastrous result of unbridled American capitalism, it becomes especially weak. I hate that feeling that I'm being manipulated and I felt it constantly during this movie.

Yes, I'm a fairly conservative guy (only really when it comes to the economy) but I'm all for a good corporate crime story. I loved "Den of Thieves" (the Pulitzer-winning expose of the junk-bond fiasco of the 80s) because it meticulously constructed its case with precise details. In contrast, "The Smartest Guys in the Room" resorts almost entirely to opinion and hearsay. There's very little actual fact in the movie. It could be because Enron shredded all of the facts, but that doesn't excuse the filmmakers from making a compelling case. Maybe the story of Enron just isn't ready to be told yet.

Last edited by Hiro11; 02-09-06 at 09:49 AM.
Old 02-09-06, 09:50 AM
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Have you read the book? Some of the "holes in the movie's evidence" are filled in the text and there's far more data than in the film.

You should give it a shot, especially if you liked Den of Thieves.
Old 02-09-06, 09:57 AM
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Originally Posted by TimeandTide
Have you read the book? Some of the "holes in the movie's evidence" are filled in the text and there's far more data than in the film.

You should give it a shot, especially if you liked Den of Thieves.
Good point, I should definitely do that.
Old 02-09-06, 11:48 AM
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Yeah, the movie definitely strayed from just laying down facts and tries to be more entertaining by portraying the top dogs at Enron as evil bastards. I think if Smartest Guys would have meticulously layed out all the evidence against Enron it would have made for one hell of a boring movie though.
Old 02-09-06, 01:49 PM
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I think it would be difficult to make the case that Skilling and Lay, at least, committed any crime. The question hinges on a "Did-they-or-didn't-they-know" about Fastow's partnerships. I imagine it would be difficult to find someone willing or able to go on record for the film about what Skilling/Lay knew.

Overall, I thought the movie was entertaining, but one part really got to me, for some reason, and that was the part (shown more than once) where the gigglily lady is answering questions written on cards from an audience (presumably of Enron employees). The question was whether employees should put all their money into Enron stock. The giggling answer was "yes".

The implication was, to me anyway, that this was proof that the poor Enron employees never had a chance against the savvy PR machine of Enron and, based on that flippant remark offered among giggles, employees said "Well, that's obviously well-reasoned financial advice, I shall follow it and put all my retirement in Enron stock."

Now I know that's not the whole story, but the movie itself seemed to not have much in the way of proof other than that.

There was other stuff in the movie I either liked or didn't like, but that one part stuck with me as being annoying for some reason.

But again, I liked the movie and thought it did a fairly good job with a complicated (and usually fairly boring) subject.
Old 02-10-06, 11:26 AM
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I just can't believe that the SEC approved the whole "Mark to Market" accounting treatment. That kind of stuff has red flags all over it.

I agree, read the book as well. It fills in a lot of the gaps in the film.
Old 02-10-06, 01:10 PM
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There's nothing wrong with Mark-to-Market as it's supposed to be used. It gives a more accurate financial picture of the company and is apparently widely used among traders (and Enron was an energy trading company).

If a trader bought and held securities priced at $10/share and, at the end of the year, those securities are worth $15/share on the open market, that gain can be realized without selling the stock (and, by the same, token, losses can be realized without selling the stock).

For Enron's trading operations, Mark-to-Market made sense.

However, their using it for private deals that can't easily be valued by an open market was an open invitation to fraud. It's something the auditors should've caught and refused to sign off on, but we've found out that Arthur Andersen was not really guarding the henhouse, as it were.
Old 02-11-06, 07:42 PM
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I didn't enjoy this movie at all. I think that it started to get bogged down in too many details, which is not what I was expecting. After seeing some great docs lately (Mad Hot Ballroom, Murderball, Grizzly Man), I was expecting more from this movie.
Old 03-01-06, 11:44 AM
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what an utterly gripping docu. best i have seen in a long time. i worked for a subsidiary on Enron and knew Houston based employees. i just wished they had a some interviews and a little more stories of all the "little people" (employees) that got devastated by the bankruptcy.

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