‘The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley’ airs 9 p.m. Monday on HBO
Public figures across disciplines can unite in the hopes that they will never become the subject of an Alex Gibney documentary. The prolific filmmaker has made a cottage industry out of his smooth, succinct and easily processed chronicles of contemporary corruption.
"The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley" is the latest entry in an Oscar-winning career that has included movies about Enron ("Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room"), Scientology ("Going Clear"), Eliot Spitzer ("Client 9") and many of the other major figures ripped from the headlines of the past several decades.
The newest Gibney endeavor, which premieres on HBO Monday at 9 p.m., doesn’t have the stylistic surprises that enhance the formula in the fashion of, say, "Taxi to the Dark Side" (the movie that won him his Oscar).
But that’s fine, really, because Gibney is in his element here. He carefully calibrates his audience’s outrage as only a master can in telling the story of the disgraced Silicon Valley startup Theranos and its founder Elizabeth Holmes, who is now charged with fraud and awaiting trial.
The movie effectively charts the rise and fall of the company, a one-time sensation that attracted board members like Henry Kissinger and former Secretary of State George P. Schultz thanks to Holmes’ allegedly false claim that it had invented blood tests requiring only a minute amount of blood.
As a behind-the-scenes, true crime depiction of how this alleged deception played out, it’s never less than compelling, with Gibney using file footage, still images and on-camera whistleblower testimony alongside re-enactments to portray a company and singularly-focused founder so enmeshed in the "fake it until you make it" Silicon Valley hubris that there was no getting out.
If anything, this material is too rich for a single documentary. The narrative could have benefited from a limited series treatment, similar to ABC’s current "The Dropout" podcast on this subject.
There is the kernel of a deeper story in the documentary, expressed in the parallel Gibney constructs between Holmes and Thomas Edison and what that says about the process of invention, that could have used more unpacking.