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There’s a commonly held belief that the US is a place where a person of humble means can make their way to the highest echelons of power through sheer grit. This myth remains stable, despite being repeatedly punctured by events like the Fyre Festival, Trump’s presidency and this week’s college admission scandal. In Alex Gibney’s newest documentary, The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, it receives another dent thanks to the incredible story of Elizabeth Holmes and the Theranos scandal. It’s the story of a woman who managed to procure millions for a blood testing machine that didn’t exist, a classic tale of connections mattering more than cognition. It inspired an award-winning book, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou and is set to inspire a splashy Oscar-aiming biopic starring Jennifer Lawrence.
But unfortunately, Gibney finds himself unable to show why Holmes was such a compelling figure. Instead, the viewer is lost in an endless maze of dry re-enactments and footage from Theranos promos and interviews. There are some fantastic gets, like early investor Bill Draper who doesn’t believe that the fact he was family friends with Holmes had anything to do with his choice to fund Theranos, but there’s nothing like an actual thesis here. We are overwhelmed with data, often clumsily conveyed. In one scene, Gibney overlays an article about Theranos on still images of a laboratory, a completely un-cinematic way of sharing information that the film returns to again and again.
Therefore, though Holmes hovers over the film, we learn very little about her; as for her early life, we are told that she read Moby Dick and admired Thomas Edison, probably to serve Gibney’s argument that she was an Icarus shooting for the unreachable, but we are left wondering why we need to see early film shot by Edison. The two-hour documentary covers Holmes’s weaponization of her class status, the hollowness of Silicon Valley, and the incompetence of the federal government’s regulatory agencies, but it is unable to tell us much about any of these subjects in detail. This nebulousness of purpose makes you feel like you are not getting the whole story.
In Gibney’s previous films, such as Taxi to the Dark Side and Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, he was able to provide deep analysis along with compelling visuals that aided narratives of governmental corruption. With this latest picture, Gibney seems unable to find images that match the story he wants to tell. He uses CGI recreations and stock footage as a sort of crutch, yet by doing so, he obfuscates the actual issue. Holmes is impossible to differentiate from a hundred TED Talk hucksters, so providing the audience with footage from her TED Talks doesn’t make her more or less sympathetic, she just becomes a talking head in a sea of talking heads. Once we are at the point where Theranos is shown to be a lie, we aren’t necessarily sure why this is a lie that commands our attention.
Admittedly, Holmes is a rather laconic and reserved figure but it still would have been possible for Gibney to construct a more purposeful portrait of her. Instead of fatuous comparisons to Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, he could have utilized more recent Silicon Valley schemes, such as the Juicero startup, as vital foils for Theranos. Instead, he combines fuzzy analysis with literal textual representation, and, as we see emails and articles read out to us over portentous music multiple times, the effect is more soporific than thrilling. Around the midpoint of the film, he shows us Errol Morris directing a commercial for Holmes – a not so subtle dig at the major documentarian – yet, one almost wishes that a film-maker like Morris, who has made a career by blurring the line between reality and fiction, had tackled this project. Better a challenging depiction of truth, then this boring litany of facts.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: The Inventor review – ordinary documentary about extraordinary crime | Documentary films