- Movie Rating -

Totally Under Control (2020)

| December 27, 2020

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I have not been able to go to movie theaters nor film festivals.  So now, with the help of award-season screeners, this month I am catching up.

Is it too early to begin chronicling the COVID-19 pandemic?  Director Alex Gibney doesn’t seem to think so.  Within the fast-paced panoply of his new documentary Totally Under Control he is on a mission to do two things: first, to trace the journey of the coronavirus from local outbreak to global pandemic and, second, to expose the Trump administration’s early response to the crises as having been handled with the force and power of a bowl of lukewarm mashed potatoes.

If you got lost in the hard facts about the crisis over the past 12 months (which was easy to do) Gibney has done a very good job of putting together an editorial timeline that traces the history of the virus from the early cases in Wuhan to the mishandled testing by the CDC.  Using a covert camera – his “COVID-cam” – over the course of several months, Gibney documents the testimony of government scientists and health officials who have been on the front lines of this scourge from the beginning.  What you get is a picture of a world in crisis that is as fascinating as it is aggravating.

Talking head interviews, normally the bane of contemporary documentaries, are essential here particularly when aimed at ordinary persons who break their silence about how alarmingly unprepared that everyone was for an epidemic that our institutional safety nets should have spent years preparing to combat.  Most interesting is Mike Bowen, an executive for a major U.S. mask maker was ignored by the government to issue equipment that was needed by healthcare professionals to protect themselves.  Or, even more interestingly, Max Kennedy Jr. (Bobby’s grandson) who broke an NDA to tell the story of how Jared Kushner’s supply chain task force was exclusively made up of young volunteers using their own computers to beg and borrow the much-needed equipment from the private sector.

Using a great deal of hard reporting, Gibney tries to dig under the agenda of the Trump administration to see what went wrong, why they ignored the early warning signs, why they essentially threw away the briefings left by the Obama administrations warning that this would happen, and how their actions left millions of people vulnerable.  He makes the case (using Trump’s own words) that basically the President’s administration let politics get ahead of science, while alternatively making the case the South Korea did the exact opposite, pushing away the politicians and letting the scientists handle the crisis.  The result is that Korea has had 100,000 less fatalities than America.

While the film creates an interesting timeline of events, it never offers a conclusion to anything.  Gibney follows the events as they are happening but draws not conclusions about what is to come.  The film had a major release in October but here at the end of the dumpster fire known as 2020 things have changed.  The election turned out to be just another of the year’s many nightmares.  The pandemic has some bright spots with a vaccine on the way, but it remains to be seen what will happen just a few months from now.  What is clear is that Gibney has made an effective film, one that shows just exactly how divided our country is politically and how unprepared it is for a crisis.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2020) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized