Totally Under Control Movie Review
In most years, a documentary such as Totally Under Control, from an Oscar-winning filmmaker and about a massive failure by government to protect its citizens, would be essential viewing. In 2020, does it even make you blink? And in all truth, is it just preaching to the choir?
An analysis of the failures of the U.S. government, and by proxy (or directly) President Trump, in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Totally Under Control is a blistering depiction of ineptitude, or worse, purposeful negligence, that has led to deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.
Co-directed by Alex Gibney, Ophelia Harutyunyan, and Suzanne Hillinger, Totally Under Control is a powerful, engrossing, and cohesive documentary—all impressive adjectives for a film portraying events that happened just a few [admittedly looong] months ago. There’s nothing sensational here, just a very clear outline of the failures that are obvious to most people who still have respectable reasoning skills.
Gibney and team must have felt they needed to get this out now, given the pandemic is ongoing and presumably going to get worse as we enter the winter months. But working against the documentary is the patience of time and allowance of historical context; it doesn’t feel rushed, but in this highly charged political environment, where even basic facts and data are in constant dispute, it’ll clearly speak to one side of the spectrum and be seen as biased garbage by the other. If a documentary such as this is intended to make a difference, releasing this the same year as the incident at hand and in advance of what will be a highly contentious presidential election, it likely will have less impact than it would a few years from now with a broader perspective of everything that happened.
Of course, release timing and politics should have no bearing on the quality of a film. In that regard, Totally Under Control is an expertly made, informative, and important piece of filmmaking. And in any other year, it’d be essential.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.