Don’t mess with Alex Gibney.
When it comes to documentary filmmaking, Gibney has shone a light on some of the biggest frauds of this generation. The Oscar-winning filmmaker of Taxi to the Dark Side, Gibney has also fearlessly taken on such hot topics as Enron (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room), the Church of Scientology (Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief) and Lance Armstrong (The Armstrong Lie). Now, with Totally Under Control, Gibney returns to discover the truth about the current global pandemic and how the US government responded to its threat.
Beginning in January of this year, Totally Under Control is a documentary that explores the first stages of the COVID-19 outbreak and its rapid spread around the world. As the virus begins to spread, multiple wings of the United States government falter at the hands of poor leadership and miscommunication, leading to one of the greatest threats to the American people in history.
You can be forgiven for feeling like the events of January 2020 took place a lifetime ago. In a lot of ways, Totally Under Control feels like a film that exists outside of time, even though we’re very much in the middle of the same global pandemic. (Frankly, so much has happened over the last 10 months that anything that happened before lockdown almost doesn’t seem real at this point.) Even so, Control offers many of the answers for which we have been searching over the last few months. As always, Gibney does an excellent job of exploring the minutiae that led to the madness of the pandemic. Though it focuses its lens primarily on the United States government and their response, the film also holds the US in comparison with other nations and how well they established new protocols and managed their responses so quickly.
Beginning the story with the maneuvering and mistakes within the CDC, Gibney effectively highlights the players who mismanaged testing and information (and aren’t named Trump). Though the mismanagement of the current administration certainly led to major mistakes, Gibney notes that there were other cracks in the system that appeared along the way. Faulty testing, the collapse of the domestic ‘mask market’ and general confusion that was rampant within other levels of government also wreaked havoc on the overall system and slowed down some key preventative measures. (Of course, as Gibney’s lens becomes increasingly focused on the blinders of the White House administration, Control also shows the chaos that the President’s team created all by themselves, including throwing out the Obama administration’s playbook simply out of spite, sending mixed messages within their own team and simply lying to the American people in order to spin the press.)
Further, by pointing to the gap between science and politics, Totally Under Control recognizes the flaws in an administration that chooses to ignore scientific fact and instead trust voices that they believe help their public image. Every comment by leading medical officials seems to be deemed traitorous by the government, simply because they are ‘off brand’ for their style of leadership. In Control, Gibney not only establishes a timeline of events but he also allows those voices who have been silenced to speak and tell their stories. Recognized as experts in their fields, Control points to them as those who should have been heard. In this way, amidst the terror and chaos of the pandemic and its bungling by the government, Gibney’s film demonstrates the importance of knowing who to trust. At a time when the public are repeatedly told that all messages are part of a vast conspiracy, Totally Under Control reminds us to truly re-examine what makes someone trustworthy in the first place.
Insightful and tragic, Totally Under Control earns points simply for its commitment to honesty regarding the events surrounding the outbreak of COVID-19. While some documentaries feel overcome by their agenda, Totally Under Controlearnestly wants the same answers as everyone else. This is not a film that desperately wants to discredit the government’s handling of the situation. Instead, Totally Under Control is a film that desperately wants to know how this happened in the first place (and discredits the government’s response in the process.)
Totally Under Control is now available on VOD.