Less corporate noir than capitalist disaster film, amply stocked with references to Titanic, Alex Gibney’s soberly entertaining documentary—adapted from the book by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind—provides a full account of the deregulatin’ Texas con men who, reporting imaginary profits while concealing real losses, rode the bull market into America’s largest bankruptcy (since surpassed by Worldcom).
America’s “most innovative company” (per Fortune), Enron was created by preacher’s son Ken Lay (or as George W. Bush called him, “Kenny Boy”) and administered by the Harvard-educated macho man Jeffrey Skilling, whose Gordon Gekkoid business philosophy advocated unlimited greed. Enron contributed mightily to Bush campaign coffers, but once its $30 billion debt emerged from a maze of creative accountancy, the corporation went from being the New Economy poster child to its Frankenstein monster. (For his part, Lay has no shame in comparing the investigation of Enron to the attacks of 9-11.)
Again and again, Gibney, who wrote and produced the 2002 docu-exposé The Trials of Henry Kissinger, emphasizes that everyone in the financial world—including a number of journalists—signed on to the fraud and profited as a result. There is a priceless moment when Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan is presented with the Enron Prize and a horrifying one, shown twice, when Enron honchos laughingly advise their hapless employees to invest their 401(k) plans in the soon-to-be-worthless Enron stock that they were themselves unloading.
The fantasy isn’t over: Other amazing footage has Enron energy traders playing the California grid like a pinball machine and (talk about collateral damage) paving the way for the state’s bully-boy gubernator—who had his own meeting with Kenny Boy in the midst of California’s manufactured energy crisis.