The Sundance Film Festival can bring so many things. So many feelings, so many lessons, and so much knowledge. The knowledge part is most prevalent in the deep slate of documentaries the festival offers each year. Many of the greatest documentaries premiere at Sundance. Last year’s crop saw Three Identical Strangers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, and four of the five nominees for this year’s Academy Award for Best Documentary.
So it’s a must to catch a few documentaries when here, and I might have stumbled on a sure-fire lock to be a nominee next year. The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley completely fascinated, shocked, and thrilled me for nearly 120 minutes and I left as entertained as any narrative film could ever leave me.
This fascinating documentary about a Silicon Valley scientist on a mission to revolutionize the medical world was directed by Alex Gibney. Gibney has won an Oscar for Taxi to the Dark Side and is better known for his documentaries Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and The Armstrong Lie. And this one ranks right up there with all of them.
The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley centers on Elizabeth Holmes who built a $9 billion dollar medical business with a determined mission, lofty goals, and perhaps impossible dreams. Her business, Theranos, was her brainchild and sought to revolutionize the process of blood testing. Instead of long needles and lengthy wait times for results, what if a company with just a prick of your finger and the use of the most advanced computer in the world could test you for every condition known to man in just minutes at your local Walgreens?
The story of how this idea originates, develops and disintegrates is spellbinding, but what carries this documentary over the top is Holmes herself. The elements that make her incredibly fascinating are endless; from her obsession to be the next Steve Jobs, her closet containing only black turtlenecks and black dress pants, and her ability to charm every former politician over the age of 75. The documentary brings to life her incredible influence over everyone she meets and how deep down she managed to bring them all with her.
The documentary brought to mind so many comparisons to a doc that was just released and has everyone talking, Netflix’s Fyre, the intense, insane documentary about the worst music festival that ever occurred. Both documentaries center around two young entrepreneurs tabbed as the next big thing. Both use influencers to grab ahold of society and never let them go. In Fyre, the organizer Billy McFarland tabs the youngest, hottest Instagram models to grab the attention and minds of rich youth all across the globe. In The Inventor, Hughes uses former Attorney Generals, Secretary of State and political lawyers to grab the respect and credibility for the highest of interest and most important decision makers. But what the two most share in common is their inability to discern reality from fiction.
Both of these people were pegged as the next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg, but now they both are fearing jail time instead of many billions in their bank account. Their drive and refusal to admit defeat was their downfall and led to a lot of terrible outcomes for so many people.
The stakes for The Inventor are so much higher than the Fyre doc, however. Instead of lying to people about seeing Blink 182 from an oceanfront cabana while eating escargot, Theranos falsely diagnosed thousands of people for heart conditions, herpes, and syphilis, all the while covering up just about everything. Gibney unveils the web of lies in the most creative way of documentary filmmaking and it’s pure cinematic joy.
HBO Films produced the documentary, so The Inventor will surely be available on HBO soon. The story of Michelle Hughes is being adapted to a major motion picture as we speak with Adam McKay set to direct and Jennifer Lawrence starring as Hughes.