November 2, 2006
A single shot won't end the war
I've written a review of "Flags of Our Fathers" for the Washington Examiner. You can read it here.
November 1, 2006
REDS on DVD
The 1981 film REDS has been released on DVD in a 25th Anniversary Edition. REDS received 12 Oscar nominations and took home three awards. Written, produced, directed by, and starring Warren Beatty as Jack Reed, the American Communist and labor organizer of the early 20th century, it is an excellent story of two love affairs: the first is between Reed and Louise Bryant (admirably portrayed by Diane Keaton) who become lovers, separate, get married, and are then estranged again; and the second is the love affair that a certain class of American intellectuals had with Communism in the period immediately preceding, during, and after the Bolshevik Revolution. Beatty and Keaton do a superb job, and the other excellent part is that of Eugene O'Neill, the playwright, performed by Jack Nicholson.
The DVD quality is excellent. I watch a lot of older films and all too often the DVD versions seem to be straight copies of the VHS original and of poorer quality. In this case, the film quality is excellent.
Nicholson and Keaton crackle as they engage each other throughout the story, and have one exchange that speaks to the degree to which love, sex, and utopian ideas become intertwined in the world of the revolutionary intellectual. Jack has departed for Russia to seek the Comintern's approval of the new Communist Labor Party of America. Louise has refused to go with him and has gone to Eugene O'Neill for solace.
Gene: Louise, something in me tightens when an American intellectual's eyes shine and they start to talk to me about "the Russian people." Something in me says, "Watch it. A new version of Irish Catholicism is being offered for your faith," and I wonder why a lovely wife like Louise Reed, who's just seen the brave new world, is sitting around with a cynical bastard like me, instead of trotting all over Russia with her idealistic husband. It's, um, almost worth being converted.Jack Reed's perpetual dilemma is the fact that he is an excellent writer, yet desires to be a revolutionary. He is forever caught between attempting to sway people through his prose and organize them in labor societies.
Louise: Well, I was wrong to come.
Gene: You and Jack have a lot of middle class dreams for two radicals. Jack dreams that he can hustle the American working man -- whose one dream is to be rich enough not to have to work -- into a revolution led by his party. You dream that if you discuss the revolution with a man before you go to bed with him, it'll be missionary work rather than sex. I'm sorry to see you and Jack so serious about your sports. I'm particularly disappointed in you, Louise. You had a lighter touch when you were touting free love.
Ultimately, and it doesn't spoil the film to say so, Jack and Louise suffer from that inescapable fate of revolutionary utopian idealists: disillusionment that the reality they have helped to create is not what it should be.
REDS is an excellent film about a part of American history often overlooked, and about the passions of intellectuals. Though a bit long at 195 minutes, I recommend it.
Interested readers may also want to see Jack Reed's book on the Russian Revolution, Ten Days That Shook The World.
Thanks to SpecialOpsMedia for my review copy.
April 28, 2006
Mrs. Chester and I just returned from viewing United 93. It was . . . enraging, gut-wrenching, and very emotional.
I usually don't find myself getting worked up too much in movies, but at the end I realized that waves of adrenaline and anger had been coming over me for nearly the entire film. From time to time I found my pulse absolutely racing. I also realized when it was over that I had broken out in, quite literally, a cold sweat. Perhaps there's just something visceral about that day that is burned into many of us.
From time to time there were the briefest of moments when I would remember -- not just mentally, but in my bones -- what a September 10th mentality felt like. You know -- how things were just . . . different.
The film was outstanding and I highly recommend it. It bested my expectations on nearly every level: the acting was good, the story stuck to the facts, and it was apolitical as far as I could tell. Kudos to the director and producer for pulling that off. It was also refreshing not to see any big-name actors in the film. It's supposed to be about regular folks after all, right?
Mrs. Chester reports that she had an emotional response as well. She also liked that the passengers were not portrayed in some sort of gung-ho heroic super-patriotic light, but rather that they just realized that they had to try to do something to save themselves.
I wonder if it will be shown in Europe?
The theater was about 75% full. When the film ended there was a moderate level of applause.
And that's it. Go see it for yourself.
UPDATE: United 93 is apolitical as I mentioned above. But I wonder if it might have some political effects, particularly with regard to Tipping Point politics. I'll make a confession: as I reflect on my thoughts and feelings during the film, I can't help but admitting that when seeing images of the younger hijackers -- not Ziad Jarrah, the pilot, but the muscle -- I am overcome with absolute revulsion. It makes one wonder if our entire enterprise of reforming the Middle East is a fool's errand.
I don't usually think this way. In fact I rarely do (see the link in the above paragraph). Yet this is how I found myself thinking during the movie, and I don't think it was because that was the filmmakers' intended effect. I'll bet I'm not the only one who feels this way after watching. It was a fleeting thought, but there nonetheless.
Perhaps this is just me. I have rather emotional reactions when it comes to the defense of the United States. Many things I can argue or debate with cool distance and even-headed dispassion. Not so with defending America. Politics might be a messy, relativistic labyrinth in general, but one thing I know: this country is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and all who wish it harm be damned.
For better or worse, I predict Tipping Point effects from this film . . .
February 28, 2006
Review: The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till
The civil rights movement's most famous episodes in the 1950s were probably the small rebellion of Rosa Parks, and of course the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling.
But whereas those moments were inspirational and uplifting in some ways, the tragic story of the murder of Emmett Till is an equally horrifying counterpoint.
The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till due to be released today on DVD, is a fantastic little film. At about 70 minutes, it is short, but covers the whole narrative surrounding Emmett Till's death with abundant detail. Till was a 14-year-old boy from Chicago, and is described by his relatives as carefree, and a practical joker, never taking anything seriously and always trying to play pranks on his cousins. In 1955, he went to visit relatives in Mississippi. While there, he famously whistled at a white woman as she was exiting a general store in Money, Mississippi. That night two men came and took him from his relatives' home. Three days later his mutilated body was found chained to a cotton gin motor in the Tallahatchie River.
Till's murder catalyzed the civil rights movement because his mother had a public funeral for him back in Chicago with an open casket, allowing all to see the violence visited upon her son. This public display caused only insult to be added to injury when the perpetrators were put on trial in Mississippi and it soon became clear that it was really a farce.
Keith Beauchamp, the director, makes excellent use of both original interviews with many of Till's relatives -- including his mother, who died in early 2003 -- and archival footage from the funeral, the trial, and the news coverage of it at the time. The soundtrack is moving, and there is a matter-of-factness to much of the interviews; that is to say, there is little in the way of melodrama. Till's mother does not need to resort to hysterics. Her calm demeanor as she describes her feelings upon seeing her son's tortured body is all the more powerful for its lack of dramatic embellishment. I thought the most moving portions were the stories of Till's cousins, who were his age, boys like him, but who are now in their sixties.
I grew up in Mississippi, a fact which I might not have mentioned on this blog before. There was a time in high school, when doing research into Mississippi history and the civil rights movement, that it dawned on me that until a few years before my birth, Mississippi had really been something akin to a police state for much of its black population. When one reads about the Sovereignty Commission -- basically a state-level secret police and intelligence organization -- one is left with indelible comparisons to the worst of repugnant regimes in other parts of the world. I say all this with no small bit of regret. It's hard to realize the dark side of the place that one has known as home all one's life. Mississppi has so many positives. Some of the nicest people I've ever met live there, both black and white. It has a history to rival nearly any other part of the country: key events in the civil rights movement, the development of blues, Grant's Vicksburg campaign, arguably more important than Gettysburg, and a long history of interaction between the French, Spanish, and Indians to boot. This underside of its story must be told, though, and films like this are among the better ways to do so.
I have but two critiques: the film uses a few brief segments of an interview with Al Sharpton. They are well done, and Sharpton does a fine job. But I think he's an inherently polarizing character in today's politics. I'm not sure that the story gains anything from his inclusion. If getting the story out is the goal, I'm not sure Sharpton makes that any easier. There are plenty of Mississippian civil rights leaders who do equally well: Charles Evers is one. So I might not have included Sharpton. Second, the film has a bit of a harsh transition from telling the story of Till to showing how the film itself played a role in reopening the Till case. One moment we are learning that Till's mother has died; the next we are watching City Council proceedings in New York City of all places, where a councilman is praising Till's relatives. It seemed a bit of a non-sequitur and needed more fleshing out. All in all, this was an excellent production though, and those are mere quibbles.
A natural prejudice leads a man to scorn anybody who has been his inferior, long after he has become his equal; the real inequality, due to fortune or the law, is always followed by an imagined inequality rooted in mores; but with the ancients, this secondary effect of slavery had a time limit, for the freedman was so completely like the man born free that it was soon impossible to distinguish between them.Mississippi might as well be a case study for what that wise man described.
In antiquity the most difficult thing was to change the law; in the modern world, the hard thing is to alter mores, and our difficulty begins where theirs ended.
This is because in the modern world the insubstantial and ephemeral fact of servitude is most fatally combined with the physical and permanent fact of difference in race. Memories of slavery disgrace the race, and race perpetuates memories of slavery.
This is a winning film and will be of interest to anyone wanting to learn more about an important event in the history of the civil rights movement. I highly recommend it.
Thanks to Special Ops Media for sending me a copy to review.
UPDATE: The Amazon link above should be for the film, but it is acting a little funny. If it is showing a different work, here's another link.
February 21, 2006
"I want hard bastards. I want MI-5."
(dialogue excerpt from Episode 8)
I've finished watching Season 3 of MI-5 and it did not disappoint. MI-5 is consistently one of the best television shows around. It addresses varied aspects of intelligence work, the clandestine lifestyle, morality and national security, and is not afraid to call a spade a spade when face to face with Islamic terror. It is superb.
If Season 3 has a theme, it is of the trials of love while engaged in serving one's country, a cruel mistress indeed. Also, extended ruminations on death are throughout these ten episodes as well. When is it moral for a country to order an assassination? I found the scenario that the show used to be completely justified, but, well, I'm a Marine. Is the lifestyle of a spy compatible at all with a personal love life? When has an agent gone too far in influencing a target? What should one be prohibited from suggesting?
These larger questions are punctuated with bits of technological whimsy -- I'm no computer geek but I think some of the technology mentioned seems a little far-fetched -- but they at no point detract from the plot, as they are ancillary to the more substantial questions above.
There are also a few digs at the Americans ("Most Americans still think the world on the other side of the oceans is empty save for signs saying 'Here be dragons." -- I took no offense at this, but found it amusing.), interservice rivalry (whew! are things really that bad between 5 and 6?), political usage of the agency, and the role of corporations in influencing policy. But none of these made up the substance of plots, and were really sideshows -- maybe even bones thrown by the writers to their political masters at the BBC.
No, this show is a work of art of the highest quality.
One episode contains a chilling exchange between a suspected terror financier -- who hides beneath three-piece suits, flawless English, and legitimate businesses -- and a female agent sent to investigate his motives:
TARGET: [sipping cognac] "American rubbish."I found this exchange to be very compelling because the message was not only delivered by a silver-tongued businessman, speaking to an attractive woman in a $500-a-night hotel suite, but also because its content is not one of Islam, Allah, paradise or fascism. It is only the most cynical nihilism. What a telling scene. For all of our rightful stereotypes of poor Arabs shouting in the streets and brandishing AK-47s, here is another side of Al Qaeda equally dangerous: megalothymia wed only to violent thrill-seeking. Might this derivation of "Islamic" terror be a growiing constituency of Eurabia in the future? I hope not, but suspect so.
AGENT: "You don't like Americans?"
TARGET: "I think no better or worse of them than of anyone else. I did enjoy watching the planes flying into the Twin Towers."
AGENT: "It certainly made the pulse . . . beat a little faster."
AGENT: "The people jumping . . . was awful though."
TARGET: "Can't you imagine the excitement of those young men who had taken over the planes? To do something so . . . devastating, so spectacular . . . "
AGENT: "It almost sounds as though you . . . support Al Qaeda."
TARGET: "No . . . I'm not interested in their ideology. They're a business as well as a terrorist organization."
AGENT: "But they could do something here or back in London that would kill everyone."
TARGET: "Why be so frightened of death, Sophie? Couple kissing down in the lobby. Boy who brought us the drinks. Who would really care if they all vanished tomorrow?"
AGENT: "Well, their families, the people that love them . . ."
TARGET: "Compare their trivial lives to those men who rushed to their deaths on that beautiful morning in New York."
AGENT: "Is that what you enjoy then? Death and destroying people?"
TARGET: "Enjoy? No, not really. But if you don't like death and destruction, I suggest you look away for the next thirty years, because it's inevitable. And millions will perish."
AGENT: "You know, you make money from people who deal in death and destruction. I'm not sure I entirely approve of you."
TARGET: "But there is a part of you that agrees with me, I'm sure."
AGENT: "What makes you think that?"
TARGET: "You're clever. You're a bit lonely. I imagine you've never been able to keep a lover, but you pretend that's through choice. One thing puzzles me though. That lost child at the station.
AGENT: "What about it?"
TARGET: "I saw your face. It wasn't the Sophie Newman who screams at cloakroom attendants.
AGENT: "How do you know about that? . . . [recovers her bearing] I've always had a soft spot for children. That other bitch happened to lose a particularly beautiful scarf of mine."
TARGET: "Shall I have her killed?"
TARGET: "The girl in the cloakroom? Hmm? Come on, Sophie! I thought it was your mission in life not to be bored. Let's see if she's working tonight.
AGENT: "Let's just . . .sit down."
TARGET: "One call to the casino, and one of my men can follow her to her house, kill her, and everybody in it."
AGENT: "Stop it."
TARGET: "Come on, Sophie, you don't find this boring do you? We can listen to her screaming." [Speaks a few sentences in Turkish into his phone] Good. She's working. So how much pain does she deserve for losing your scarf?"
AGENT: "Stop it."
TARGET: [Looks at her, then hangs up phone] "One person. A million people. You or me. It changes nothing in the end. Life is only a dream. And one day, we all wake up from it."
AGENT: "I'd like to believe that when people wake up from it they'll see a kinder face than yours."
TARGET: "Good night, Sophie."
Lest you think that this is the only impression of terrorists that is given, I have to contrast the above depiction of terror's nihilistic side with the portrayal of an influential imam in a London mosque in an episode from Season 2. The imam gives this homily to six would-be suicide bombers in one scene:
"What is it to wear 150 pound American training shoes? To put on jackets with a label from Milan in Italy? What is it to drink alcohol? To go clubbing, and end up fumbling a slut of an English girl in the park at dawn, your mind wrecked with pills? It is nothing but ash in the mouth, the taste of the death of the soul. For the west sells you the illusion of an earthly paradise. This is how the American Jews on Wall Street make their money. But despite all the pressures of the West, gaudy promises in your schools, on the television, the way your British friends behave, you've kept yourselves pure. You've become the West's worst fear: young people they cannot sell to, young people they cannot touch. You know the way to true paradise: through a martyr's death." [ALL, shouting] "Death to America and her allies! Death to the unbelievers! Death to the West!"That episode aired at least a few months before the bus and train bombings in London. Like I said, MI-5 does not shy from asking the difficult questions inherent in strategy, or offending where necessary to ask those questions. If you aren't watching MI-5, why not? I recommend starting with Season 1.
January 31, 2006
"The War Within": Within what?
The War Within
Directed by Joseph Castelo
Distributed by Magnolia Home Entertainment
The most striking aspect of the film "The War Within" is, well, its distinct lack of a portrayal of the kind of internal war that the title evokes. Instead, it takes the easy way out. Here's an excerpt from the back cover of the film:
A Pakistani engineering student is imprisoned and interrogated by Western intelligence services for suspected terrorist activities. Formerly only an intellectual supporter of jihad, Hassan undergoes a radical transformation and embarks upon a terrorist mission, covertly entering the United States to join a cell based in New York City. After meticulous planning for an event of maximum devastation, all the members of the cell are arrested, except for Hassan and one other. With nowhere else to turn, Hassan must rely on the hospitality of his friend Sayeed, who is living the American dream with his family in New Jersey. What unfolds is a profound human and political drama as we tensely observe the state of mind of a suicide bomber as he tries to decide whether or not to carry out his deadly mission.This film does not fulfill the expectations it proposes in the above description. Rather than showing us the inner workings of the mind of a man who makes rational choices to choose jihad and martyrdom, nearly every single thing that happens to Hassan is an outside influence that forces decision upon him. He never really has to choose his paths, for the circumstances align such that they are usually chosen for him, and he takes the path of least resistance.
We are not given a glimpse of his life before his imprisonment; at no point are we shown that he was an "intellectual supporter of jihad." Instead, he is walking along the street when some American thugs throw him in a van. The next we know, he's on a military cargo jet to Pakistan. So, did he choose to be a terrorist? No, it's the Americans' fault. That at least is the implicit assumption.
In prison, he shares a cell with a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Do they have lengthy and detailed conversations about jihad, Muslim philosophy, geopolitics, religion in general? No. We are left to assume that such discussions took place. We're left to assume that becoming a jihadist is just what happens to someone who is imprisoned. That may be the case. But the film doesn't portray any sort of transformation, epiphany, religious conversion, or other sort of mental strife.
The next we see Hassan, he is smuggling himself into the US in a cargo container, meeting handlers who set him up temporarily until he can contact with the rest of his cell. The film misses another huge chance here to explore the mindset of jihad: what role did he have in planning the act he has sworn to commit? Is he a worker bee or an operational planner? How committed is he to the cause? In short, despite the outrage of his unjustified imprisonment, how has he convinced himself that the taking of innocent life is warranted?
Maybe the film seeks to make the point that once a Muslim has been wronged by the West -- and really, they all have -- that they are justified in the most extreme forms of retaliation. I don't think that's the point here. But it might as well be, since we just aren't exposed to the inner workings of Hassan's mind. Instead, we are left with an image of Muslims as a sort of robot: wrong them and by Allah, they'll be blowing themselves up. They can't think you know; they only have one switch with two settings: "resentment" and "jihad". Do anything whatsoever to flip the switch and it's curtains for you! I think that this line of thinking wrongs Islam, and casts terrorists as something other than what they are, and by mischaracterizing them, makes it more likely that we'll choose poorly in how we opt to defeat them.
Back to Hassan: he didn't choose to be imprisoned; he therefore didn't choose to be a jihadist, but became one anyway; then his fellow schemers are foiled by the FBI. So he has to choose, with the other surviving cell member, whether to go on or not. Even here, Hassan only jokingly recommends that the two of them press on alone -- and probably wouldn't have done so if his co-conspirator had said no.
Without giving away too many plot details: at every turn, the film could have given Hassan clear choices, but instead all of his actions are reactive in nature, not proactive. This is the work's key failing. I submit that as a culture we are in dire need of a psychological study of suicide bombers, and the making of jihadists. Other films have tried: Syriana's suicide bomber is an unemployed Pakistani living in Saudi Arabia, laid off by a multi-national oil company, and radicalized in a madrassah. The direct causality from oil to jihad is a bit of whimsy, but at least we see that he is instructed in extreme Islam by one of its teachers. That film too though, failed to show us his inner workings. Perhaps we need something in the first person, a book, or film, that will fill this gap. What we lack is insight into what Paul Berman, in Terror and Liberalism, terms "mental war":
A mental war was visible in Afghanistan too -- a clash of ideologies, sometimes on the most sophisticated level, doctrines in massed formations, chasing each other back and forth across the landscape . . . The Terror War was fated to be fought on that same plane -- on the plane of theories, arguments, books, magazines, conferences, and lectures. It was going to be a war about the "cultural influences" that penetrate the Islamic mind, about the deepest concepts of modern life, about philosophies and theologies, about ideas that draw upon the most brilliant of writers and the most moving of texts. It was going to be, in the end, a war of persuasion -- a war that was going to be decided in large part by writers and thinkers whose ideas were going to take root, or fail to take root, among the general public.Yes, that's the "war within" that I wanted to see.
To be fair, the film is at its best when it doesn't try to draw attention to Hassan's plight (whether it is of his own making or not) and instead when it involves the nice Muslim family in Jersey that houses him. This is where the film shines. Here we have a typical American family, but Muslim: the father a doctor, the mother a housewife, the son a regular boy, the sister a professional and independent woman, all of them living in the Jersey suburbs. Here is where the war within is fought. As Sayeed, the doctor, begins to wonder about Hassan, he must decide how to handle him. Is he as extreme as he seems? Is he a danger to the family? Should he trust his old bonds to his childhood friend and overlook his mysterious and newfound piety? Here are where the choices are made that show conviction. Unlike the story of Hassan, whose entre into jihad is contrived, Sayeed's own choices are solely his alone, and how he handles them rings true. There must be hundreds, if not thousands of Muslim families in the US who deal with similar issues of loyalty to faith, kin, blood, or adopted nation on a daily basis, and must remain true to their convictions at all times. Here is where the real "war within" is taking place. If only this movie had focused its energies there.
Despite my criticism, and the shortcomings of the film, I recommend it. First, heck, it's a lot better than much of the dreck out there. If you've got a choice between this and Tristan and Isolde, that's pretty much a no-brainer. Second, at least it gets one thinking about these issues, even though I suspect that many readers will be frustrated with the work for similar reasons. And finally, I find immigrant communities in the US to be fascinating subcultures. Probably because I'm married into one. In short, check it out for yourself and see if I'm off the mark.
Thanks to the folks at Special Ops Media for sending me a copy for review.
April 12, 2005
Chester Reviews "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room"
[I was recently offered the chance to review the new film, "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room," based on the book of the same name by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind. I'd like to thank Special Ops Media for this opportunity.]
In December of 2004, I was in Houston on business and grabbed dinner and drinks with a friend in commercial real estate there one evening. As we drove downtown, he pointed out many of the landmarks of the Houston skyline, and we took a brief detour to look more closely at several. We pulled up in front of one particular two-towered high rise. It was about 11pm and the streets here seemed especially deserted. The towers were beautiful, though my friend quickly told me they were nearly completely empty. Some local developers had recently purchased the empty building for a song. It was then that I turned and saw the now infamous capital "E" sitting on a 45 degree angle. This was the former world headquarters of Enron.
A large part of the US population probably had some relationship with Enron at one point or another -- either you did business with them, knew someone who worked there, or were a shareholder -- or if not, one or your mutual funds probably was. Now, after its downfall, Enron is little more than a punchline. "Enron accounting" is an accepted substitute for other older idioms like "cooking the books."
But what was it that happened at Enron? Certainly there was more to it than just blatant financial and accounting shenanigans? If "Enron" is to remain as the butt of jokes, it is necessary to know and remember how this turn of events came about.
"Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room" goes a long way toward answering these questions. Directed by Alex Gibney, "Smartest Guys" is a well-edited and thoughtfully executed documentary of Enron's rise and fall. We go deep into the lives and backgrounds of all of the major players: Ken Lay, the PhD and de-regulation advocate who became the chairman, perhaps blinded by the visionary prognostications of Jeff Skilling, the Harvard MBA consumed with the concept that anything was more or less acceptable so long as smart people were behind it; Andrew Fastow, the amoral numbers whiz and Skilling's protege, who dreamed up ways to hide Enron's debt, and a whole cast of colorful characters that in many ways seem to be extras from old "Dallas" episodes, and whom one would expect to find in any morality play set in Texas. Theirs is a fascinating story.
The filmmakers deserve kudos for both the incredible access they achieved in interview subjects, and for the outstanding footage they incorporate into the film. While other documentaries have to rely on stock footage carefully woven together to portray scenes for which there is no record, here we have probably a dozen or so clips from Enron company meetings, recordings of phone conversations between energy traders, and even a brief snippet from a conference call with Wall Street analysts in which Skilling calls one an "asshole" for questioning Enron's financial records.
The Enron executives' relationship with the Bush family is tastefully performed as well. The viewer leaves not with the impression that George W. Bush is guilty by association with Enron personnel, but instead with a deeper realization of just how accepted Skilling and his ilk were in the mainstream corridors of power. This is either smart filmmaking, since it is always best to stick with the script and not wander too much into conspiracy-land, or smart marketing, since those marketing the piece probably realize that many right-of-center viewers are happy to see a film that excoriates accounting tomfoolery in big business.
Since I lived in California during the rolling blackouts of 2001, I thought the portion of the film dealing with this whole issue was very interesting. Unfortunately, here is where the narrative takes a stumble a bit. There is much made about the deregulation of California's energy market in the late 1990s by Governor Pete Wilson, and much made of the control Enron is able to exercise to lower capacity until prices rise and then to turn the spigot - as it were - back on to make obscene profits. There is a scene of Governor Gray Davis asking the federal government to intervene, and just a kiss of a conspiracy as to why Bush chose not to do so -- with a little bit of Ahnold-electioneering thrown in to spice it up a bit. I thought this to be dissatisfying since I lived in California just long enough to see how many of its problems are its own policy creations. Governor Wilson de-regulated the energy sector, yet Gray Davis's only option was to ask for federal help? This seems a little disingenous, especially since the filmmakers explain that Enron had a specialist among the energy traders who was the only guy anyone knew who had actually read all of California's rules and figured out how to game the system. No doubt Enron was up to some nefarious manipulation of the system, probably complying with the letter and not the spirit of whatever laws there were -- but this bit of the story needed a clearer explanation in the film.
That minor speedbump aside, this is an excellent work overall. Even the musical choices add much to the tenor of each chapter, blending well with the desired mood, and are incorporated flawlessly into the narrative.
The questions I left with were these: Was Skilling so convinced of the glory of an unregulated energy services and trading firm that he truly did not know how bad things were? Did he truly understand the complex structured financial transactions that Fastow foisted upon him? Or was he in the know all along, riding the gravy train as long as he could, then bailing at the perfect moment? Whatever the answer, his was not a character that belonged in charge of anything-- that much is certain, and this is a lesson often overlooked in the corridors of power: intelligence is not only amoral, but it also has little to do with leadership ability.
I highly recommend this film. Don't miss it.