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‘Totally Under Control’: a title, definitely not a description of the White House COVID response

These kids weren’t working for the task force. They were the task force. “In the entire time I was a volunteer,” says Kennedy, “our team did not purchase a single mask.”

“Totally Under Control” comes to us from the tireless documentarian Alex Gibney (“Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” the Oscar-winning “Taxi to the Dark Side”), here collaborating with Ophelia Harutyunyan and Suzanne Hillinger. Originally scheduled for release in early November, the movie was bumped up to Oct. 13 following the news of President Trump’s COVID-19 infection. You can watch it on demand or via a virtual screening at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, which will be hosting a filmmaker Q&A on Oct. 14.

The movie is enraging, necessary, and above all, useful. The year of our dark lord 2020 has brought so many daily outrages that it has become easy to lose sight of the big picture; exhausted by each new revelation of incompetence and denial, we fall off the back of the truck and let the news roll on without us. By simply reconnecting the dots and reminding us of exactly where failure lies, a movie like this is valuable.

From "Totally Under Control."
From “Totally Under Control.”Neon

Where failure lies, says “Totally Under Control,” is with Donald Trump’s White House. Structured as a straightforward chronology — what the news business calls a tick-tock — the film starts in January of this year, as rumors of a “Wuhan pneumonia” started moving through epidemiological and public health circles. It’s a little shocking how long ago that seems yet how quickly the situation deteriorated: The first US case, in Seattle, appeared on Jan. 20; a day or two later, the president told a reporter at Davos “We have it under control.”

That was nonsense, of course. Created during previous administrations, a