Review by Tatiana Miranda
Nearly eleven years ago, only a week after the September 11 attacks, came the first of the 2001 anthrax attacks. Spanning about a month, from September 18 to October 12, five people were killed and seventeen injured due to mailed letters containing traces of anthrax. Initially considered a terrorist act connected to Al-Qaeda and the September 11 attacks, the case would remain open until 2010.
With its long case history full of mistakes and the rampant panic in society at the time, the anthrax attacks seem to be a prime documentary subject. Writer-director Dan Krauss proves this to be the case in his new Netflix documentary The Anthrax Attacks: In the Shadow of 9/11.
The Anthrax Attacks presents itself not unlike a police procedural drama, first presenting the progression of the attacks and the fear that ensued from postal workers and civilians alike, then slowly building on the FBI's work as they spend years working to find the culprit of these attacks. Spliced between interviews of FBI agents and postal workers impacted by the attacks are reenacted scenes centered around one person: Dr. Bruce Ivins. Portrayed by Clark Gregg, best known for his role as Phil Coulson in the MCU, Ivins was a microbiologist specializing in anthrax and gave the FBI his assistance during the investigation.
While this technique can sometimes feel cheesy and inaccurate, in The Anthrax Attacks, Gregg's version of Ivins utilizes the microbiologist's own words from interviews and writings. Although the case's conclusion and FBI officials' opinions are public, the pacing of the movie makes it seem as if the case is a mystery the audience is watching unravel in real-time.
Andrew Cohen, an executive producer alongside Krauss, stated that "Delving into the biggest investigation in FBI history is no simple task, but...we've been able to create a powerful and provocative film that blends drama and documentary to reopen our understanding of one of the most shocking terrorist acts in U.S. history." Even though the case went cold for years and still ended up relatively unsolved, The Anthrax Attacks presents it in an interesting light that critiques the officials that handled the case, some of whom are interviewed throughout the documentary.
From the careless decisions regarding biological weapons expert Steven Hatfill to the inconsiderate treatment of postal workers, by the time the credits roll, the audience might begin to wonder who the true "villain" of the story is.
The Anthrax Attacks: In the Shadow of 9/11 begins streaming on Netflix September 8.