‘Totally Under Control’ review: New Alex Gibney documentary offers an incisive and infuriating critique of the Trump administration’s inept coronavirus response.
And now, he brings us “Totally Under Control,” an incisive, lucid and infuriating critique of the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic that Gibney co-directed with Ophelia Harutyunyan and Suzanne Hillinger. In the old days of film stock and editing room, we’d say that this timely narrative has arrived “dripping wet.” Indeed, this is such an up-to-the-minute account that the filmmakers were able to add a dismally ironic postscript that, just a day after completing the movie, President Trump himself would be diagnosed with covid-19.
Obeying the meticulous, metronomic rhythms of a classic procedural, “Totally Under Control” takes viewers back to what seems like another age, when a mysterious flu in Wuhan, China, was ravaging that community. Starting with the first known case in Washington state, the pandemic arrives on U.S. shores, and the misjudgments, missed opportunities and scrambled responses begin. Tests are hurriedly prepared but prove faulty, and an easy fix is inexplicably overlooked; the federal government pits states against each other in an obscene bidding war for badly-needed supplies; American citizens are given confusing and contradictory messages about the severity of the disease and the most appropriate ways to fight it; tough lessons learned by the previous administration, which battled its own outbreaks, are abandoned in favor of an ad hoc, often incoherent, reinvention of myriad wheels.
Meanwhile, the fatalities pile up. In addition to creating a concise, tonally understated compendium of damning facts and figures, “Totally Under Control” provides a useful comparison with South Korea, which the filmmakers present in side-by-side scenes: In the United States, people come to blows over whether to wear masks while in Seoul, a rapid-response testing and tracing program keeps outbreaks to a minimum and a complete economic shutdown at bay.
To anyone who has followed the news of the pandemic,