One year later, a measure of good has come from the Enron collapse.
The good news is not necessarily the regulatory reforms imposed on Wall Street and corporate America in the wake of Enron Corp., WorldCom Inc. and other scandals; it remains to be seen whether they can restore the confidence of U.S. investors.
The benefit is two hours of wry, cautionary entertainment in the form of "The Crooked E: The Unshredded Truth About Enron," a made-for-TV movie airing Sunday night at 9 on CBS.
"The Crooked E" chronicles the fall of an empire built on nothing but bull market avarice and blind allegiance in the only way that makes sense: as both tragedy and comedy.
Based on the book "Anatomy of Greed: The Unshredded Truth From an Enron Insider" by Brian Cruver, the story follows 26-year-old Cruver (Christian Kane), a Harvard Business School graduate who joined the Houston company in early 2001 only to witness its demise from the ground up. Director Penelope Spheeris works from a script adapted by Stephen Mazur.
Cruver -- recruited to work in the division selling (ahem!) bankruptcy protection to corporate clients -- is quickly indoctrinated into "the cult of the crooked E," as the freewheeling Enron way was called in a nod to the company logo.
On the job, Cruver stumbles at first, but he soon finds his confident stride with the help of a pep talk from his fatherly mentor at the company, old family friend Mr. Blue (Brian Dennehy), who tells him: "Enron's the wild West, it's deep space, it's the bottom of the ocean. There are no limits at Enron except the ones you place on yourself. Just how far are you willing to go, huh?"
Eager to fit in, Cruver assumes a taste for the finer things, including showy sports cars and overpriced sushi. This, of course, is months before Enron's stock plunged from $60 a share to mere pennies. Hiring a pricey wedding planner, Cruver impresses his peers but disappoints his levelheaded fiancee, Courtney (Shannon Elizabeth), jeopardizing the relationship.
As a gung-ho executive who eventually becomes overwhelmed by guilt, Dennehy has only a few scenes, but he stands out in a strong cast that also features Mike Farrell as Enron's arrogant chairman, Kenneth Lay.
When the company spirals toward bankruptcy as its accounting shenanigans are exposed, Mr. Blue confesses the sins of his career to Cruver in a moment of almost Shakespearean sadness.
Sporting a blue Polo shirt and sipping Johnny Walker Blue, he tells the admiring Cruver how he started out running an oil-drilling crew but in recent years has done nothing but "keep the lie going." With thundering authority he says, "I cashed my check."
Regardless of whether "The Crooked E" captures the "unshredded truth" of the Enron saga in a literal sense, Spheeris shows a knack for finding a bizarre culture's absurd essence, just as she did in the 1981 punk rock documentary "The Decline of Western Civilization."
Just look at the long line to use the office paper shredder at the end of this movie or the crooked "E" tattoo one embarrassed character comes to regret -- the ultimate scar.