Totally Under Control – Movie Review
Rating: A- (Great)
Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Elevation Pictures
When the COVID-19 pandemic started, there was a hope and expectation that maybe it would blow over in a few months after everyone stayed indoors for enough time for the virus to go away. Unfortunately, reality told a different story and several months later, it still rages on. With Totally Under Control, documentarians Alex Gibney, Ophelia Harutyunyan and Suzanne Hillinger attempt to see how it all began and what allowed the virus to spread so quickly. The film particularly emphasizes the White House’s slow response and inability to contain the coronavirus. For people who have been following the news, the information in Totally Under Control won’t be surprising. However, it’s still important to remember how the world got to its current state.
What the filmmakers deserve to be commended for is presenting the information in a way that’s rational. It would have been easy to make Totally Under Control completely doom-and-gloom and pessimistic. However, it’s clear the last thing the documentary wants to do is incite panic. The intent is mostly to lay the blame on the government officials, especially President Donald Trump, and citizens responsible for the climbing case and death numbers in the United States. What’s remarkable is going back to the early months of the pandemic. It’s hard to believe it started this year, when events like the first cases in Seattle and the Diamond Princess quarantine in Japan feel so long ago.
Even though Gibney narrates the film in order to provide context, he allows the footage and the interviewees to speak for themselves. We hear from journalists, doctors and former government employees, all of which give an idea of how this global event escalated to its current point. Seeing all of Trump’s inactions presented together also highlight how disastrous his response was. Totally Under Control definitely paints a picture of a leader more interested in how he presents himself to his core base than actually getting ahead of a serious problem. The documentary also compares Trump’s response to other countries, who have been far more successful.
While it would have been interesting to also look deeply at how nations like the United Kingdom, Brazil and India fumbled the pandemic, it’s clear the filmmakers wanted to focus on the United States. We get plenty of information on the bad steps taken and the unfortunate politicization of mask wearing, among other issues that have arisen. They obviously don’t have access to what’s going on in the White House, but the documentary makes do with what they have, including interviewing a few people who had previously worked for the Trump administration. The film also gives voice to the medical professions at the middle of this crisis and what they have to cope with.
Even at only two hours, Totally Under Control is able to present a timeline of the pandemic and explore how it’s spread and why it might take a while before it’s finished. A final note included at the very end shows there will be even more material to include in a future documentary. What’s appreciative is that Gibney, Harutyunyan and Hillinger don’t resort to fear mongering. They just present the facts, research and interviews as matter-of-factly as possible. To edit the current situation like a horror film would have been irresponsible at a time when people’s anxieties are already up. What the documentary says is we can get through this if we are responsible, understand what happened and how we can prevent further spread.