Movie Review: ‘Totally Under Control’ is a Dark Reminder of the US Government’s Handling of the Pandemic
Director: Alex Gibney, Ophelia Harutyunuan, Suzanne Hillinger
Writer: Alex Gibney
Stars: Alex Azar, Charlie Baker, Scott Becker
Synopsis: An in-depth look at how the United States government handled the response to the COVID-19 outbreak during the early months of the pandemic.
I want to start this review off by pointing out a few things for clarification. This is a review coming from somebody who lives in the UK and did not have to go through the pandemic under the ruling of Trump and his administration. Sure, the UK has been far from perfect when handling this situation, but it has been even more insane to watch the cases rise in the US and the lies that Trump was spreading about masks, medicine, and social distancing. I went into this documentary knowing what the media shared across the world about how the pandemic was handled, and wanting further insight into the decisions behind the scenes that made that impact.
For the most part, that is what this documentary presented. This documentary starts before the first case even entered the US, and what scientists and top doctors were doing to try and prepare for the first cases to come in. What I appreciate about this documentary was the details they shared from behind closed doors, such as what truly happened when the first confirmed COVID-19 case in the US was discovered and how quickly they allowed the virus to spread within a few days before taking him in and running tests.
A lot of the issues talked about here are universal, which makes it easy for someone like myself outside of the US to recognize the situations that the country ran into during this pandemic. Many countries suffered from a lacking amount of PPE (personal protective equipment), ventilators, and beds for the number of patients that were expected to be going into hospital, and the shocking reality of seeing each US state bidding thousands of dollars on a single ventilator shows the true horror of the dangers that COVID-19 brought.
There was a real purpose behind this film being made. This is not made to bring in a profit. This isn’t made to get awards attention (although it may still do that, and deservingly so). This is made to highlight the issues within the Trump administration in regards to their handling of COVID-19 and to convince viewers to vote for Joe Biden when the election came. In terms of the execution and the final result, this film achieved exactly what it wanted to do.
It can be so easy to wrap yourself up in the politics and talk about what side you are on, especially with films like these that have a strict moral compass and belief to them. However, it is the sequences that focus on the doctors and scientists that really stand out to me, and the work that they were trying to get done whilst Trump was going against them and putting out false information. The documentary makes their points incredibly clear and does a good job at showing clips including interview sequences specifically for this film, promotional material used by the Trump administration as well as press meetings to support their points.
There has been a running trend with the COVID-19 documentaries that I have seen, and this one runs into the same issue. This is a situation that is still ongoing, and it is clear that this one was rushed by the end to get out in time for the presidential election. There is no clear cut end to this story, it instead ends right when everything is starting to spiral further for the Trump administration. There will be several COVID-19 documentaries from 2021 onward that will be more concise, sharp, and have a clear end goal and wrap-up because they will have all of the information. They will see the vaccine being used, the risk of catching the virus drop, and people getting back to some sort of normality. These documentaries right now, as much as they want to, cannot end with a satisfying conclusion – even if the needle drop at the very end of this documentary is the perfect way to actually get their full message across about the way Trump handled the pandemic.
In terms of COVID-19 documentaries I have seen so far, this one is the strongest. It has a clear focus and message, and it does a great job at getting that message across the screen. It is designed for audiences in the US, but it does not alienate anyone else who chooses to watch it, instead of informing them of the way that the Trump administration handled this pandemic. There are moments of heartbreak, as well as moments that are easy to look at and question why anyone thought the decisions made were smart in the first place. If you are looking for a documentary about COVID-19 that does not focus on the virus itself, this is the documentary I would go for.