I have been a fan of Alex Gibney‘s work for a long time now. Since I saw Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room at my local theatre the year it came out (when it got fucking snubbed for best documentary by a bunch of fucking penguins). Since then, his work has been consistently as fantastic. I want to give a big shout out to Going Clear, which I still think is the best documentary on Scientology out there.
Which brings us to his new documentary, The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, which has definitely kept up the tradition by being a well put together, intelligent, and visually breathtaking look into Elizabeth Holmes’ complete bullshit.
Lets start with content, for those of you unaware, here is the high level synopsis. Stanford University dropout Elizabeth Holmes decides to start her own company working on a micro version of blood-based diagnostics. That industry is dominated by these giant fucking machines that take forever to come up with a result. But the results are accurate.
Holmes took the DIY Silicon Valley approach of taking an idea and finding a way to make it work. Problem is, she didnt have any scientific breakthrough. No data, no research, nothing. She just was going to innovate medicine through force of will.
And I think thats where this documentary really shines. Elizabeth Holmes compares herself to Michael Dell, Steve Jobs, and Seregy Brin constantly. But heres the problem. These people had skill, talent, or a vision more than “Well this sucks, someone should do better.” Holmes had none of that. My FAVORITE part of the documentary is the interview with the head of physical medicine at Stanford, who spends the ENTIRE documentary shitting on the fact that Elizabeth Holmes had no respect for scientific discipline, how diagnostics actually works, or medicine in general. Yeah, you can totally “fake it till you make it” in tech. When it comes to peoples lives, you clinical trial or die.
Instead of just dying, she perpetrated an elaborate scheme I would call lazy fraud. Where she just never admitted shit didnt work, and through it on the back of her actual scientists to solve her problems. Things spiral out of control from there.
The other odd thing the documentary features is how much people LOVED Elizabeth Holmes. And I mean like falling for her crap because of her looks. Its such an odd thing. Like she sounds really stupid any time anyone asks a technical question. How in the world did people not see that this person had no idea how medicine worked?
Regardless, the documentary does showcase plenty of examples where this happened. And once the glass is shattered, oh man do these once-infatuated people turn their back on her. Its gloriosu.
A few more highilghts from the film. The film really benefits from Errol Morris‘ cinematography. They have a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff of Holmes at Theranos, because they had enough investor money to higher Errol Morris to make a informercial for Theranos. The informercial never saw the light of day, but somehow Alex Gibney got the rights to the footage, and as a result, the documentary really benefits from it.
The structure is also really nice. He has all the quality interviews he needs, from collegues to members of the board of Theranos to alot of confessional stuff from Elizabeth Holmes (again courtesy of Morris). Gibney has an impeccable way of putting together a documentary.
If I have anything to negative to say about this one, is just that this feels very small. Compared to his other documentaries, this feels alot more brisk and tiny. I think the reason for that is the subject matter. At the end of the day, Theranos is primarily guilty of defruading a few billion from investors and making shitty lab results for a few thousand people. Compared to Enron’s collapse or torture in the Iraq war or fucking Scientology, its just a much smaller topic.
Thats not necessarily Alex Gibney’s fault. Maybe its a bit too soon. Maybe we need the formal trial. Maybe we need to see Elizabeth Holmes headed to jail. I dunno. But in the land of complaints, that feels like a minimal one.
3.5/4 – Gibney doesnt make crap. And this continues the streak. While not the masterpiece that is Enron, Taxi to the Darkside, or Going Clear, its a really great watch. Its on HBO now. Get at it, or Elizabeth Holmes will bleed you out.