To the uninitiated, the term activist investor may sound like a stockholder on Wall Street with a picket board and a cause. Carl C. Icahn, an activist investor par excellence, is a veteran of what the practice actually entails: buying a stake in a company and pushing for changes in management or strategy. Above all, as the genius documentary portrait “Icahn: The Restless Billionaire” explains, he is discouragingly good at making money.
the octogenarian Icahn anchors this nimble pocket-sized biography, with his appealing directness and cold look, while taking charge of the office and around the house. The Queens-raised son of a cantor and teacher, Icahn has spent decades targeting companies like Tappan, Texaco, and Apple as he searched for undervalued stocks.
The director, Bruce David Klein, cleverly builds Icahn’s war stories in terms of problem solving and negotiation, not just betting. Icahn’s triumphs, as well as his previous contacts with the Transport Workers Union and hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, make for ready-made drama, while visits to his family (and a wizard-like synth score) maintain a sunny air.
But even for Icahn, a respected headline-maker who made the Giving Pledge, the profile can be a little soft. It clouds comparisons to corporate raiders in its own record of the 1980s. The talking commentary is dominated by financial journalists (including Andrew Ross Sorkin of DailyExpertNews) and millionaires, without always clarifying Icahn’s financial maneuvering (or his political maneuvering, such as his service under Donald Trump as a special adviser).
The perspective—while producing something that is eminently viewable—can come across as old-fashioned and incomplete to some viewers.
Icahn: The Restless Billionaire
Not judged. Running time 1 hour 41 minutes. Watch HBO Max.