Review by Sean Boelman
Filmmaker Alex Gibney is known for his very prolific filmography packed with politically-charged documentaries. His newest film, Totally Under Control, features him and his co-directors back at it again with a portrait of the COVID pandemic that is equally terrifying and depressing, a message that desperately needs to be heard before the election.
In the movie, Gibney et al. take a look at how the government of the United States has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic with a specific focus on the shortcomings of the executive branch and its leader, President Donald Trump. And while (most) Americans are hopefully aware of how bad the situation has become, this film makes a compelling argument as to what caused us to get here in the first place.
At right over two hours in length, the movie is filled to the brim with information. Admittedly, the film could have perhaps been more effective had it been presented as a sort of exposé, but this contains a lot of very good details that make it an educational watch nevertheless. It’s bleak and tone, but tackles issues that urgently need to be addressed and solved.
Obviously, there is a clear political agenda in the movie, and the filmmakers don’t try to hide it. The fact that this is coming out as people are already voting via absentee ballots and early voting shows that this is a hot-button topic in current politics. But this does not feel opportunist in any way, but rather, as a reminder of the part that each and every one of us can play in fixing this crisis.
With this does come a bit of bias, but the film is heavily grounded in medical research and expert opinions. There’s a policy angle that specifically evaluates the shortcomings of the Trump administration and a public health angle that emphasizes the tragedy that this has become. And by blending these two approaches, the filmmakers appeal to both the viewer’s politics and emotions.
Yet even though the Trump bashing is a significant portion of this movie, there’s more to it than that. Other COVID documentaries have really focused on serving as a time capsule to remember what went wrong so that it doesn’t happen again, but Gibney and co. seem more interested in finding a solution to this madness.
It’s obvious that the film was made very quickly and had to adapt as changes occur, but for something that was made on a moment’s notice, it’s a lot better than one would expect. The editing is done in a way that is consistently involving, and it feels very focused and deliberate, with a clear eye on what its story should be.
Totally Under Control will either be preaching to the choir or dismissed as lies by a majority of its viewers. But for the people who need to see it most, those undecided voters who are waiting to cast their ballots, this is absolutely essential viewing.
Totally Under Control is now available on VOD and streams on Hulu beginning October 20.