Movies

Alex Gibney’s New Documentary On The Pandemic, ‘Totally Under Control,’ Might Make You Want To Scream

A couple of weeks ago I met a friend, outside, that I hadn’t seen in about six months, even though we only live about two miles from each other. Not long into our reunion, he tells me, not prefacing the blow, “Here’s why you’re annoying.” Summoning what little ego I have left these days, I braced for more. He continues, “Since March, I’ve tried to be positive. I’ve tried to tell myself that things will be back to normal somewhat soon and maybe life can return to some semblance of normal. Then I talk to you and it deflates me every time. And the annoying part is … you were right every single time.”

The thing is, he’s correct. I have both been right a lot and I’ve been pretty annoying. (When I have been wrong, it’s almost always been on the side of believing large corporations, like movie theaters and theme parks, would err on the side of caution and not decide to roll the dice with reopening and hope for the best.) And the fact I’ve been right a lot is infuriating because, and I’m guessing this won’t be a surprise: I am not an infectious disease expert, I am not a scientist, and I am not a doctor of any kind. The only thing I am is someone who reads things written about the virus by people who are all those aforementioned professions and listens to what they say and how this whole thing will turn out. And it turns out they are right and I just spout off whatever it is they are saying. And if I, someone who knows nothing, can be right most of the time just by listening to experts, it makes literally no sense that the people in charge of our health and safety can’t just do the same thing. I am livid. You should be livid. And then I watched Alex Gibney’s new documentary, Totally Under Control, and I wanted to scream.

Gibney’s doc paints a picture that the Trump Administration’s response to the coronavirus is, at the very least, incompetent and, more likely, criminal. It argues that they have literally botched everything and they’ve perhaps done it on purpose, which is pretty evident to anyone paying attention but Gibney puts all the pieces in order with a sobering and scorching result. Totally Under Control shows that Trump didn’t downplay the virus to invoke calm. He did so in an effort to keep the markets high so that he could win re-election. Honestly, after watching this film, it’s hard not to think that many involved with this administration should be in prison. (Literally one of the first talking heads we see in the film, The New York Times’ Michael Shear, now has Covid-19 from covering press briefings at the White House.)

The emotional epicenter of the film comes from Rick Bright, the former BARDA director who filed a whistleblower complaint against the Trump administration for their insistence that the CDC mass-produce hydroxychloroquine. Everything about this saga is maddening and, frankly, stupid. Gibney interviews the doctor who claims hydroxychloroquine is a miracle drug, which got the attention of Fox News, which got the attention of Trump – who then went all-in on a drug that nearly every medical professional says does not help (as evidenced by the fact that he himself has not been treated with it during his own battle with COVID). But since everything is stupid, Trump wanted it, so he got it. At least until Bright, who was out of other options, came forward to the media to explain the nonsense that was happening. Of course, he was fired two weeks later. And as he tells his story, he starts openly weeping as he explains how difficult it is to come forward in this administration. Opening the door for notoriety, ridicule from the president, and death threats.

It’s easy to say, with anything like Totally Under Control, that no one will care and nothing changes. I don’t believe that’s true. Yes, it’s true that Donald Trump’s ardent supporters won’t change their minds. There’s always going to be some goon ready to talk to a camera about what a great man the president is and how he fought COVID for you. But reality paints a different picture. The polls keep moving away from Trump. People are listening. People are paying attention. We are living through one of the most despicable performances by a president in American history and what Gibney does is piece together what we know so far: from the lack of initial response, to the botched testing, to states having to bypass the federal government to obtain much-needed PPE, to the corruption, to the ineptitude – literally everything this administration did was wrong. And here are the last eight months all laid out for us, and it’s infuriating.

Gibney finished his film just last week. I can’t help but imagine him finally locking the film, sending it off to his distributor and feeling some form of satisfaction that at least his film includes everything we know to date. Then I imagine him saying he needs to add one final thing, which comes in the form of a postscript during the credits: That, after all this, one day after the film was completed, Donald Trump announced that he has tested positive for Covid-19.

‘Totally Under Control’ will stream via VOD on October 13, and via Hulu on October 20.

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