Directed by Brian Knappenberger, the same person who did The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz in 2014, which also landed a spot in Adam’s top ten list. It is a documentary about the Gawker vs Hulk Hogan case involving his sex tape.
I haven’t let the movie settle in my mind completely after watching it a few hours ago, but I can describe my initial feeling on the film as flat, despicable, and disingenuous. My expectations after seeing the film’s trailer did not betray my reactions to it.
I had biases against Gawker, not in the sense that they were conflicting against my own views, but because the practices and tendencies, and especially the attitude of Nick Denton, is simply disgusting and my impression with the corporation has been very low. As a result, every time Nick Denton had appeared in an interview, I had doubts of his words, and every word he spoke cemented my opinion of him further.
Obviously, it was not the film maker’s intention to show any of the people he interviewed as bad or good, which I give the credit to the director to treat the case with minimal biases, but what ever you think about the people who appears in the film will not be reverted. If you think Nick is a negative ten million dollar net-worth piece of shit, it is likely this documentary will fail to persuade you to the other side. I suppose this is a failure on the film if it intended to convince its audience to see the case differently, however, I think its true failure is how it was presented, because the moral standing of the film is less of an issue than how jumbled up it was.
The one of the problems of the movie is this, the message on the tin is weak and flawed. The overall message of the film is that Freedom of press is under a threat by billionaires such as Peter Thiel, and this message is a starting point to present this issue. Unfortunately, the Gawker case is not an evidence for its premise but a mere tangent. The reason why I call the message weak is that its thesis is strung up and reaching, almost like a conspiracy theory. It opens up with the Gawkers case and catches up the audience out of the loop, revealing the details of the case and the events and players involved and what not; this subject covers about 60% of the movie and is like reading the sparknotes of a book without the analysis portion.
One of the largest criticism brought up about the premise of the movie is that it shows Gawker as a Martyr or a victim of the BIG AND EVIL ESTABLISHMENTS, but that claim is only true in thick lens and on the surface. The documentary presents Hulk Hogan case to be unfair and deceitful, with secret intentions behind it. On the other hand, Gawker is presented to be, by the words of the founder, a muck racking, fearless, and admittedly harsh, news outlet, often taking pride in getting celebrities upset and having a bad standing with the subjects of their articles. Peter Thiel gets the worst rap on the movie, which admittedly is founded in truth, citing his eccentric personality, radical ideology, and underlying political motivation. The filmmaker never interrupts to put his biases in the film, and only the subjects of the interview helps to mold the audience’s view of them. Framing the subjects like so can be easily intemperate the court case as a dark dawning of the death of the 1st amendment. Unfortunately, the connection of this court case, billionaire killing off free speech, and President Trump is barely stemmed together.
The film never mentioned why Hulk Hogan won, how Gawker had broken laws previous to this, the hypocrisy of Gawker during the Fappening, why Peter Thiel didn’t sue Gawker for past negative articles, how Gawker defines something as news worthy, what Trump has done so far to justify the fears of an authoritarian rule, the cause of distrust in media and the “Fake News” sentiment, the value of keeping Gawker, the opinion of the public during the court case, or Peter Thiel’s thoughts on the matter. In fact Peter Thiel is strangely absent in the film, or anyone else who opposed Gawker. These questions and details can easily destroy the argument of the film, but it ignores it.
The entire movie is a claim with no flavor or substance, giving the impression that this documentary had avoided objectivity. It sounds like my sophomore year rants on facebook except with a budget.
I also felt uncomfortable. I don’t like to describe something as propaganda, especially since this film is independently made, but the way it is edited and produced feels manufactured and emotionally manipulative. In fact it is pretty generic how the film concludes; showing a montage of brave protesters, the violence from Trump supporters, some intimidating footage of Trump, and a child showing support for the cause.
That might be the worst crime of the film, it is nothing too special. You can watch a google Gawker and get the information off easily there, or watch numerous videos on youtube on the subjects making the same claim about Donald Trump. There are no surprises in the documentary, again, your opinion of the subject is likely stay the same after watching it, not a lot of obscure info about the case unless you were not familiar with the Gawker situation, and the reflection about the state of free speech is shallow.
Adam has said that documentaries don’t have to be true in order to be good, it just has to be a good film, regarding the film “CatFish”. By that measure, this documentary is not worth watching. It crosses the same paths as anyone else, it leaves every stone unturned, it adds nothing to the table, and it subverts no expectations.