"A house of cards built over a pool of gasoline," so one interviewee in Alex Gibney's Oscar-nominated documentary describes the collapse of the seventh largest corporation in America. 20,000 people lost their jobs and billions in pensions and retirement funds went down the drain. But Enron was far more than just a company getting too big for its own good and toppling over.
For those of us who know that Enron signifies what happens when big business becomes bad business but don't actually know the story behind it, Gibney's film fills in all the facts behind the headlines and paints a vivid and despairing picture of the dark side of the American dream. It's all here: insider trading, huge egos, monumental dishonesty and the two men in charge, Enron President and CEO Jeffrey Skilling and Chairman and CEO Kenneth Lay.
Narrated by actor and social activist Peter Coyote, 'Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room' (a phrase once used to described Skilling and Lay) has a wealth of brilliant footage of its subjects and great interviewees, from former employees to doubting analysts and journalists. For those not familiar with the workings of the stock markets, however, it could prove a little confusing at times - there is a blizzard of facts and figures but what the film really needed was a few recaps and diagrams to continually clarify what's going on.
Gibney's film also suffers because it's missing the punchline. Last month Skilling was found guilty on 19 of the 28 counts against him of conspiracy, fraud, making false statements and insider trading while Lay was found guilty on all six charges that were filed against him of conspiracy and fraud; both are facing life in prison. Perhaps the DVD will bring the story up to date, in the meantime, if business junkies can prise themselves from the financial pages for 90 minutes they'll find much to 'enjoy' here. If you've ever wondered just how much money some people need in life this film will give you the most depressing of answers - and convince you that the same thing will happen all over again.