×

Tribeca Film Review: ‘At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal’

Erin Lee Carr’s upsetting and infuriating doc recounts the reign of sexual-abuse terror perpetrated by USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.

Director:
Erin Lee Carr
With:
Trinea Gonczar, Chelsea Zerfas, Amanda Thomashow, Isabelle Hutchins, The Honorable Rosemarie Aqualina, Rebecca Davis O'Brien.

1 hour 29 minutes

Official Site: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8299654/

Dr. Larry Nassar was the prototypical wolf in sheep’s clothing, a respected physician, community figure, and friend who exploited the trust of children and adults alike in order to perpetrate sexual assaults against young female gymnasts. His infamous fall from grace, and the impact it had on those who suffered by his hand, is movingly recounted by “At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal,” director Erin Lee Carr’s survivor-populated documentary. Reasonably definitive and, thus, deservedly damning, it should have a long life on HBO, following its Tribeca Film Festival debut.

It wasn’t until September 2016 that Nassar, a sports doctor at Michigan State U. and with USA Gymnastics’ national team, was publicly outed by former gymnast Rachael Denhollander as a sexual predator. In the months that followed, hundreds of athletes came forward to claim that they too had been molested by Nassar, often via a trademark “technique” (involving vaginal penetration) that he claimed was for medical purposes. It was a headline-dominating revelation punctuated by the ensuing discovery of Nassar’s child pornography stash, and it culminated with a 2018 court sentencing at which numerous victims read statements to his face. “At the Heart of Gold” plays those acts of brave defiance at length, their confessional power so raw and pained that they’ll undoubtedly bring many viewers to tears.

Before reaching that traumatic footage — including Randall Margraves (a father of three victims) begging for a minute alone with Nassar, and then rushing the pedophile in court — Carr lays out Nassar’s illustrious standing in his field. Whether working with USA Gymnastics or John Geddert’s Twistars, Nassar was a revered and beloved figure by virtually everyone who knew him. His cheery, goofy demeanor and constant concern for the health and well-being of his patients made him seem like gymnasts’ one true friend in an environment otherwise dominated by ball-breaking adults (including culture-defining titans Bela and Marta Karolyi) who expected girls to work until they dropped and never complain about injuries. Since physical maladies were a constant factor, Nassar always had a steady stream of targets in his office — and it was there, often under the watchful eyes of parents, that he groped and inserted fingers into gymnasts as part of his technique.

Employing dozens of interviews with Nassar’s abused former charges (minus, notably, Aly Raisman, Simone Biles and McKayla Maroney), “At the Heart of Gold” conveys the insidious way Nassar carried out his crimes, which soon also took place in the basement of his house, as well as the corrupt system that enabled him. With everyone touting Nassar and his technique as unimpeachable, and trained to silently accept discomfort as a natural facet of chasing Olympics glory, girls — deliberately kept in a prepubescent state by rigorously repetitive training — simply grimaced and bore it. That other coaches and administrators knew about Nassar’s behavior is irrefutable, and Carr details the earlier accusations levied against the doctor, all of which were ignored or dismissed by individuals, schools, and governing bodies that — out of self-interest and/or a general belief that kids are less reliable than grown-ups — continued to employ Nassar, to the detriment of countless subsequent victims.

Carr plays it straight aesthetically, marrying archival footage with newly recorded commentary, and it’s the latter that gives “At the Heart of Gold” its gut-punching potency. Speaker after speaker is tormented by not only what was done to them, but feelings of rage and guilt over having not realized that Nassar’s conduct was wrong — a mistake that then led them to encourage others to seek out his help. In Kyle Stephens’ heartbreaking statement to the court about the personal and familial ramifications of Nassar’s actions, the film exposes the far-reaching consequences of such monstrousness, which no matter the courageous and inspiring resilience of its many survivors, has clearly left profound, lasting scars.

Popular on Variety

Tribeca Film Review: 'At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal'

Reviewed online, Stamford, Conn., April 30, 2019 (In Tribeca Film Festival – Spotlight Documentary). Running time: 89 MIN.

Production: (Documentary) A HBO Documentary Films presentation of a Sidewinder Films, Ungerleider Ulich Prods., S.J. Gibson Films, Kindred Images production. Producers: Dr. Steven Ungerleider, David Ulich. Executive producers: Sarah Gibson, Michael Cascio, Gerald R. Molen.

Crew: Director, writer: Erin Lee Carr. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Bryan Sarkinen. Editor: Cindy Lee. Music: Drum & Lace, Ian Hultquist.

With: Trinea Gonczar, Chelsea Zerfas, Amanda Thomashow, Isabelle Hutchins, The Honorable Rosemarie Aqualina, Rebecca Davis O'Brien.

More Film

  • Samuel-W.-Gelfman

    Samuel Gelfman, Roger Corman Film Producer, Dies at 88

    Samuel Gelfman, a New York producer known for his work on Roger Corman’s “Caged Heat,” “Cockfighter” and “Cannonball!,” died Thursday morning at UCLA Hospital in Westwood following complications from heart and respiratory disease, his son Peter Gelfman confirmed. He was 88. Gelfman was born in Brooklyn, New York and was raised in Caldwell New Jersey [...]

  • Margot Robbie stars in ONCE UPON

    Box Office: 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' Pulls Ahead of 'Hobbs & Shaw' Overseas

    Sony’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” might not have hit No. 1 in North America, but Quentin Tarantino’s latest film is leading the way at the international box office, where it collected $53.7 million from 46 markets. That marks the best foreign opening of Tarantino’s career, coming in ahead of 2012’s “Django Unchained.” “Once [...]

  • Good Boys Movie

    Box Office: 'Good Boys' Leads Crowded Weekend With $21 Million

    The Bean Bag Boys, the self-appointed nickname for the trio of best friends in Universal’s “Good Boys,” are conquering much more than sixth grade. They are also leading the domestic box office, exceeding expectations and collecting $21 million on opening weekend. “Good Boys,” which screened at 3,204 North American theaters, is a much-needed win for [...]

  • Amanda Awards

    ‘Out Stealing Horses’ Tops Norway’s 2019 Amanda Awards

    HAUGESUND, Norway —  Hans Petter Moland’s sweeping literary adaptation “Out Stealing Horses” put in a dominant showing at Norway’s Amanda Awards on Saturday night, placing first with a collected five awards, including best Norwegian film. Celebrating its 35th edition this year, the Norwegian industry’s top film prize helped kick off the Haugesund Film Festival and [...]

  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    Richard Williams, 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' Animator, Dies at 86

    Renowned animator Richard Williams, best known for his work on “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” died Friday at his home in Bristol, England, Variety has confirmed. He was 86. Williams was a distinguished animator, director, producer, author and teacher whose work has garnered three Oscars and three BAFTA Awards. In addition to his groundbreaking work as [...]

  • Instinct

    Locarno Film Review: 'Instinct'

    Now that “Game of Thrones” has finally reached its conclusion, releasing its gifted international ensemble into the casting wilds, will Hollywood remember just what it has in Carice van Houten? It’s not that the statuesque Dutch thesp hasn’t been consistently employed since her startling 2006 breakout in Paul Verhoeven’s “Black Book,” or even that she’s [...]

  • Good Boys Movie

    Box Office: 'Good Boys' Eyes Best Original Comedy Opening of 2019

    Universal’s “Good Boys” is surpassing expectations as it heads toward an estimated $20.8 million opening weekend at the domestic box office following $8.3 million in Friday ticket sales. That’s well above earlier estimates which placed the film in the $12 million to $15 million range, marking the first R-rated comedy to open at No. 1 [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content