© Kinowelt Filmverleih GmbH

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
U.S.A. 2005

Opening 25 Jan 2007

Directed by: Alex Gibney
Writing credits: Bethany McLean, Peter Elkind
Principal actors: Peter Coyote

The smartest of them all, Jeff Skilling, was just sentenced to 24 years and 4 months in prison—at his age (52) this amounts to life. It sounds excessive for what they call a white-collar crime, but Skilling’s sentence seemed fitting to a lot of people around the country, as well as the judge who said “As the many victims have testified, his crimes have imposed on hundreds, if not thousands, a life sentence of poverty.”

Enron’s bankruptcy in December 2001, the cancellation of pensions and health care and loss of millions of dollars for thousands of workers and investors who had faithfully followed the lead of the chairman, Ken Lay, and his CEO Skilling and put their money into Enron stock even after it had begun its downward spiral, sent shock waves around the globe. As the facts slowly filtered out and it became clear that the executives had paid themselves bonuses just before the crash; that at least ten prestigious banks and brokers had known Enron was in serious trouble but continued to promote the stock; and that Ken Lay, Jeff Skillling and Andrew Fastow (the CFO) had sold their stock before it started its slide, the rage and disbelief became overwhelming.

The film traces the rise and fall of Enron and the brilliant Skilling, brimming with ideas and a genius at marketing them and convincing the banks and Wall Street that Enron was the most successful energy company in the world. It is fascinating to hear former senior executives and the journalists who uncovered the disaster tell the tale and to watch Skilling and Lay at work, schmoozing their employees and Wall Street and whipping them up to more and more excess. The outright fraud which was perpetrated on California by Enron during the energy crunch was clearly carried out with the hubris of greed and arrogance and in the film it is obvious that it was deliberate skulduggery.

Skilling’s sudden, unexplained resignation in August 2001 triggered the collapse - but it was going to happen soon in any case, which is undoubtedly why he left. To this day he still says he is so sorry about the terrible damage it caused, “But,” says Skilling, “I wasn’t there!” and that is essentially his defense - he wasn’t responsible. But the film makes it perfectly clear that yes, Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling and Andy Fastow were indeed responsible for one of the most enormous frauds in the history of white-collar crime. (Adele Riepe)

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