In case you missed this the first time around (as I did), highly recommended: Alex Gibney's 2005 documentary on Enron, The Smartest Guys in the Room. Apart from its original, intrinsic interest in telling the sordid tale of Skilling, Fastow, Lay, et al, the film has surprising new resonance now.
On the one hand, the sums involved in this previous-world-record-scandal now seem quaintly small. Enron was a $60 billion (or whatever) corporation that went bust. Ooooooohh, say it isn't so! That is practically a rounding-error financial disaster now, except when achieved by a single person like Madoff.
But the fundamental dynamics of the fraud are very, very similar to what we've heard about from a dozen other institutions in the past year. And -- the part that really got my attention -- the second-tier villains in the Enron story, the enablers and blind-eye-turners for the active fraud Enron had underway, included many that have emerged in full villainy since then, Merrill Lynch, Citibank, and boosterish business journalists prominent among them. Also: if you happened to be living in California during the Enron-intensified
rolling blackouts of nearly a decade ago, as I was, you will find yourself wishing that mob justice could have been applied to the Enron team. You'll also wonder why a guy named Lou Pai
is not as notorious as the rest of them -- and how he escaped with his fortune mainly intact (and accompanied by what the film refers to as his "stripper girlfriend").
Worth seeing a first time -- or a second or third, with the new eyes of 2009. Alex Gibney, the director, is known to the world as last-year's Oscar winner for Taxi to the Dark Side and within the Atlantic as the brother of our colleague James Gibney.