Dir: Alex Gibney, 2015
In reviewing Louis Theroux’s excellent My Scientology Movie, my interest in the operation of the church became piqued. I thought it only right to review a more serious documentary on the religion.
Gibney’s film takes the standard route of filmmaking. An abundance of talking heads combined with archive footage, build up a picture of idiosyncrasies within the church
It’s an interesting documentary as is the subject but Gibney’s traditional handling brings the film down to a more mundane level.
This is not a bad thing as it presents an informative film but it also deadens the enjoyability of it.
It’s by the numbers stuff.
You can’t help but feel that there’s a lot missing. Gibney gives us tasters of what he’s got but doesn’t give you the full course.
We are shown brief snippets of John Sweeney’s infamous Panorama documentary, where he went head to head with Tommy Davis and a shouting match started. The church quickly tried to use the footage against Sweeney and the BBC.
Hollywood superstar John Travolta, lobbied the government in an attempt to get the programme banned. It didn’t work and the episode was shown as planned.
Sweeney has alleged that, during the course of filming, he was followed down the streets of London and had his hotel room broken into, more than once.
Gibney could have elaborated more on this, but chooses to skim over it. The inclusion would have added another element to the church’s bizarre and paranoid behaviour.
Several of the interviewees appear in Theroux’s film but are more real and open. Here, they’re just sat down and talking to a camera.
This eliminates the opportunity for friction and plays it safely. We don’t get to see the genuine personality.
Although the director focuses on the church being more of a cult, he doesn’t get to the heart of what it is that lures people in.
It would have been so good to hear from contributors such as Paul Haggis and Tom De Vocht about the idea of Xenu dropping human beings into volcanoes that made them believe.
Of course, the real icing on the cake would have been interviews with Tom Cruise and Travolta. To get inside the mindset of these two has got to be a blast.
Make no bones about it; it is an anti-Scientology film. Gibney makes no apologies for that and why should he?
I totally understand that it’s difficult, nay impossible, to speak to church members but, a little bit of balance would have worked.
At two hours, the film does drag. It’s just not involving enough.
It’s all the same stuff we’ve known about for years.
Louis Theroux was able to make it funny and insightful. Alex Gibney isn’t able to.
A disappointing and uneventful film with no real revelations that should have been so much more.