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British journalist takes on the church in documentary 'My Scientology Movie'

British journalist takes on the church in documentary 'My Scientology Movie'
Louis Theroux in the documentary "My Scientology Movie." (Flat Creek Films / Magnolia Pictures)

Over the last few years, Scientology has gone from being a mysterious, controversial religious movement to being extensively criticized in books, movies and TV series. So there's nothing really new revealed in Louis Theroux's documentary "My Scientology Movie" — although the veteran British journalist's approach to the subject is original enough to be entertaining.

Theroux's great coup is to garner the participation of Mark Rathbun, a former high-level Scientologist who helps stage reenactments of some of the intimidation and indoctrination techniques that he either witnessed or facilitated.

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Like many British documentarians, Theroux adopts the pose of the curious naif, asking so many innocently needling questions that he eventually gets under Rathbun's skin, stoking his guilt and paranoia. Almost inadvertently, the dynamic between the two illustrates what it's like for people to be at odds with their own faith.

Not everything "My Scientology Movie" tries works. Theroux and director John Dower get around the unwillingness of practicing Scientologists to sit for interviews by hiring actors to play some of the organization's biggest names — which is a stunt that's never as meaningful or revelatory as is intended.

Still, it's hard to deny the edge-of-the-seat drama that the filmmakers generate whenever they calmly push back against the cameramen and operatives who've been assigned by the church to follow them around Los Angeles and intimidate them. As he uses Rathbun's old tactics against his observers, Theroux raises troubling questions about psychological warfare and how devoutness shades into fanaticism.

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'My Scientology Movie'

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes

Playing: Arclight Hollywood

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