Movie Review...
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room





Site Administrator:
Chris MacDonald, Ph.D.
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An EthicsWeb Website

  • Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room is a gripping and witty telling of the Enron saga, based on the book by Fortune magazine writers Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind. This is doubly good news: good both that the story is being told, and that it's being told in an accessible way. For despite the fact that Enron is the biggest business scandal in recent years  ? perhaps the biggest ever ? most people have surprisingly little understanding of what actually went on at Enron. Most people you ask can tell you that Enron employees lost jobs, that investors lost lots of money, and that the reason for it all had something to do with corporate greed and with dishonesty at the executive level. But few people can explain just what it was that Enron execs did wrong, and fewer still understand the complexity of the Enron saga, or the range of players who were necessarily complicit in America's greatest case of corporate fraud.
  • One of the very best things about Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room is that not a single ethics professor appears in the film. Not that I have anything against ethics professors ? I happen to be one myself. It's just that, for the most part, you don't need advanced training in ethics to see that what went on at Enron was bad. So in an age of deference to expertise, it's refreshing that this film settles for telling the story of Enron, and lets viewers arrive at the obvious moral conclusions on their own.

  • Of course, this is not to say that there's nothing interesting to say, ethically, about what happened at Enron. The story is actually much more complicated than headlines would lead you to believe. Indeed, there's lots that can be, and has been, said about the lessons that the Enron story holds for corporate America, and indeed for corporations world-wide. Philosopher and management pundits have offered up a range of perspectives on what went wrong at Enron, and why. And while this movie does speculate about what made it all happen ? was it arrogance? greed? hasty deregulation of the power industry? cynical manipulation of the human tendency to follow orders? ?  its greatest strength lies, perhaps, in its refusal to focus on a single, easy answer. Conspiracy theorists will surely be disappointed, but the complicated scenario painted by this movie is surely closer to the truth.


© Chris MacDonald