Sundance: Documentary dives deep into the fraud of Theranos

Combined Shape

PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney has always been interested in the psychology of fraud and self-deception. So when HBO CEO Richard Plepler and Graydon Carter proposed that he look into the blood-testing startup Theranos and its charismatic young leader Elizabeth Holmes, saying yes was a “no-brainer.”

The film, “The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley,” premiered Thursday on opening night of the Sundance Film Festival.

Theranos had promised that it would revolutionize health care with cost transparency and blood-testing technology that would require less blood. Sporting black turtlenecks, and Stanford-dropout bragging rights, Holmes was touted as the “next Steve Jobs” and Theranos was at one point valued at over $9 billion. Just two years later, amid investigations by the Wall Street Journal into the inaccuracies of the technology, and then by the Securities and Exchange Commission, that valuation went to $0.

It’s an idea that has captivated many in the entertainment industry. In addition to “The Inventor,” which will air on HBO later this year, a scripted version of the saga is in development based on John Carreyrou’s book that would star Jennifer Lawrence as Holmes with “Vice’s” Adam McKay at the helm.

Gibney, who has taken on Scientology and the Lance Armstrong scandal, knew it was right up his alley. The only problem? No one would talk to them. David Boies, the famed litigator, “had terrified everyone,” Gibney said.

CNN's Don Lemon Fails to Get Guest to Take 'Bait,' Instead Gets Contradicted on Slavery

“Everyone was convinced that if they talked to us and said critical things about the company, that David Boies would sue them,” Gibney said. “It’s evidence to how the legal system too often works. David Boies likes to say that the law defends the poor, the infirmed, the underdog. No. Most often the law is there to buttress the powerful. And that’s how he was used in this case, to silence the whistleblowers. Nobody wanted to come forward. It was very hard.”

They even tried to get Holmes and had a five-hour off the record conversation with her, but she ultimately declined to participate. So they took a more roundabout way at first, talking to journalists like Ken Auletta who had once written so reverentially about Holmes.

But then, late in the process, they had a breakthrough. Someone inside Theranos gave Gibney and his team a “motherlode of footage from inside the company.”

Footage from company parties and internal interviews, for Gibney, “made the whole thing come alive” and helps paint a fuller picture of what was happening inside this now infamously secretive shop. It’s a riveting portrait of a leader, and of a society that values big ideas and visionaries above all reason.

“I think one of Elizabeth’s greatest skills at least in terms of Theranos’ initiative is her abilities as a storyteller,” Gibney said. “She was able to be so convincing because she convinced herself. She convinced herself that the righteousness of her cause was so great that if they cut a few corners here and there or did a few bad tests that they’d get it right ultimately and save lives. That idea that the ends justify the means? Over time I’ve learned just how dangerous an idea that is.”


Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter:

The Western Journal has not reviewed this Associated Press story prior to publication. Therefore, it may contain editorial bias or may in some other way not meet our normal editorial standards. It is provided to our readers as a service from The Western Journal.

Truth and Accuracy

Submit a Correction →

We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.

The Associated Press is an independent, not-for-profit news cooperative headquartered in New York City. Their teams in over 100 countries tell the world’s stories, from breaking news to investigative reporting. They provide content and services to help engage audiences worldwide, working with companies of all types, from broadcasters to brands.
The Associated Press was the first private sector organization in the U.S. to operate on a national scale. Over the past 170 years, they have been first to inform the world of many of history's most important moments, from the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the bombing of Pearl Harbor to the fall of the Shah of Iran and the death of Pope John Paul.

Today, they operate in 263 locations in more than 100 countries relaying breaking news, covering war and conflict and producing enterprise reports that tell the world's stories.
New York City