ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM (Alex Gibney). 110 minutes. Opens Friday (April 29). For venues and times, see Movies, page 100. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
If Howard Hampton sees just one film this year, it should be Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room .
Alex Gibney 's documentary, based on the book by investigative reporters Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind (for a review of another Enron account, see Books, page 80), is full of talk about paper profits and balance sheets, and comparisons to the Titanic are as plentiful as the lies of Enron's executives. The film gets fascinating when it turns to California and Enron's contribution to Arnold Schwarzenegger's gubernatorial victory a year ago.
Enron's chairman, Ken Lay , pushed for the deregulation of California's power market, seeing profits for his energy trading company. Audio tapes surfaced in which Enron traders encouraged the shutdown of California power plants in order to drive energy prices higher, causing the rolling blackouts that hit the state in 2001. The energy "crisis" didn't help former governor Gray Davis during the recall election, and now there's another Republican actor running the world's sixth-largest economy. A better argument against deregulation was never made. Hampton would love it.
By not focusing much on Enron's employees, the film misses an opportunity to tell a more dramatic story, especially since the architects of Enron's demise walked away with hundreds of millions while the little guys went broke. But keeping the story at the top of the food chain does something that is perhaps nobler: this cautionary tale reminds us that power (of all kinds) corrupts.