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‘Going Clear’ Sundance Reviews: A Scorching Takedown of Scientology

'Going Clear' Sundance Reviews: A Scorching Takedown of Scientology

Alex Gibney is no stranger to documentaries that double as exposés, but he’s got a particularly good one with “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief.” Based off the non-fiction best-seller by Lawrence Wright, “Going Clear” takes on the Church of Scientology, its bizarre beliefs, its autocratic inner workings and its brutal attacks of ex-members. Reviews note that while the film features a lot of juicy information about how the Church of Scientology controls John Travolta and Tom Cruise — including hiring a private investigator to break up Cruise’s marriage to Nicole Kidman when she began to move away from the Church — it doesn’t feature too many facts that weren’t already expounded upon in the book. But most critics write that the film is still a powerful, damning look at the organization, and that the new interviews with ex-members, who received a lengthy standing ovation at the film’s Sundance premiere — are stirring. It’s certainly riling up the Church itself, which took out full-page ads in the New York Times denouncing the film before anyone had seen it, and have set up a Twitter account to attack the film, including comparing it to Rolling Stone’s notorious bogus UVA rape story.

“Going Clear” will play on HBO starting March 16.

Josh Lincoln Dickey, Mashable

There’s something impactful about seeing mature, intelligent, well-spoken men and women onscreen — who seem like perfectly reasonable, critical-thinking human beings — speak at length about their experience in an organization that is anything but. Most of their stories, however, have been out for years; stories of being essentially imprisoned, beaten, brainwashed and financially ruined at the hands of charismatic but deeply paranoid and power-hungry church leaders. Read more.

Bilge Ebiri, Vulture

If Gibney’s film sometimes seems a little shapeless, that’s understandable: There’s a lot of stuff in “Going Clear,” and it doesn’t lend itself easily to a feature-length structure…Gibney’s a bit like a kid in an expose-candy store here, and you can sense him trying to cram as much as he can into the film. Good for him: “Going Clear” is jaw-dropping. You wouldn’t really want it any other way. Read more.

Leslie Felperin, The Hollywood Reporter

In terms of the much-anticipated exposure of the church’s links to celebrities, there’s not much here that hasn’t surfaced before, but some of the aforementioned ex-members speak very forcefully on camera about their convictions that high-profile members like John Travolta and Tom Cruise surely can’t be wholly unaware of the worst accusations against the organization. Read more.

Scott Foundas, Variety

Though the lid was blown off the Church of Scientology long ago, Alex Gibney’s powder-keg documentary, “Going Clear,” should certainly rattle the walls, if not shake them to their very foundations. Gibney had an excellent blueprint to work from in Lawrence Wright’s exhaustively researched 2013 nonfiction bestseller (from which the film takes its title), but he’s also added much fascinating material here, including new interviews and proprietary Scientology video footage that has to be seen to be disbelieved. Read more.

Eric Kohn, Indiewire

The title technically refers to the Scientology concept of cleansing invasive alien “Thetans” from one’s body, but by the end, it has a new context: The defectors have gone clear of the forces that brainwashed them for years, and “Going Clear” is an apt tribute to their defiance. Read more.

Mike Ryan, Uproxx

Most fascinating is the testimony of Oscar-winning writer and director Paul Haggis, who very publicly left Scientology in 2009. He gives fantastic insight into why anyone would put themselves through such an ordeal — how it’s a bait and switch. You’re lured in with talk of self help, then, after investing a fortune, you learn about the more ridiculous components of the organization, like Xenu. (Haggis explains that when he first read this, he assumed if he bought into it he might get kicked out for being gullible or stupid.) Read more.

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