Film Review: Icahn: The Restless Billionaire (dir by Bruce David Klein)

Before I actually talk about Icahn: The Restless Billionaire, I should probably confess something.  Well, actually, this is a reconfession because I explain this every time that I review any movie or documentary the deals with stocks and investments and big shorts and corporate takeovers and all the rest.  The Stock Market confuses the heck out of me.

Seriously, I have no idea how it works.  Everything that I hear about it just confuses me.  How can you invest money that you don’t have in order to make or lose money that might not actually exist?  How can people keep buying stock in the same company?  It just seems like a company should eventually run out of stock.  And what is stock anyways?  And don’t even get me started on this whole thing where people can apparently secretly buy everyone’s stock and then force a company’s founder to resign or sell the company itself.  That’s just weird to me.

I will also admit that I actually do own stock.  I didn’t buy any of it.  Some of it, I inherited.  Some of it was gifted to me.  Some of it, I got through work.  Off the top of my head, I really couldn’t tell you much about any of the stock that I own.  I’ve been told that my stock’s doing well, which is fine with me.  Nobody ever tells me if my stocks aren’t doing well, which is also fine with me.  I don’t really need that pressure.

Some people, however, love the pressure.  Carl Icahn, for instance, has made billions by playing with the stock market and by taking over struggling companies and then selling them for a profit.  Icahn’s detractors call him a pirate or a raider.  Icahn claims that he’s an activist, taking over poorly managed companies and then selling them for a profit so that people, like me, who have no idea how any of this works can also make a profit.  (And, of course, Icahn makes a huge amount of money off of it as well.)  Carl Icahn is thought to have been one of the role models for Wall Street’s Gordon Gekko.  Consider that Wall Street was released in 1987 and you can see just how long Carl Icahn has been doing this.

Icahn: The Restless Billionaire is a documentary about both the man and his controversial career.  It delves a little into his childhood and features plenty of scenes of Icahn at his mansions and in his ornate office.  For the most part, though, it’s a collection of scenes of Icahn and some of his associates discussing the various takeovers and battles that Icahn has been involved with over the years.  The documentary is unapologetically pro-Icahn.  If you’re expecting to see AOC or Bernie pop up and start going on about taxing the rich or condemning billionaires, you’re out of luck.  In fact, the documentary is so pro-Icahn that it almost feels like a relic from a different era.  For that matter, so does Carl Icahn.  Icahn is happily pro-capitalism and he makes no apologies for that.  A lot of viewers aren’t going to be used to seeing that in a contemporary documentary, especially not one produced by HBO.  Myself, I’m a fan of capitalism and free enterprise so it didn’t bother me and the documentary, at the very least, worked as a change of pace.  Still, I can’t help but imagine that a lot of my friends would have ended up throwing something at the TV.

Carl Icahn is obviously a smart guy and he’s made a lot of money.  I enjoyed looking at the house.  At the same time, he’s not exactly the most charismatic billionaire in the world and the scenes that attempt humanize him come across as being stiff and staged.  The documentary is probably at its best when its just Icahn and his associates talking about the battles that he’s fought.  I honestly couldn’t follow what they were talking about but I also couldn’t deny that they all seemed to be having fun.

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