Combustible Celluloid
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With: Scott Becker, Taison Bell, Michael Bowen, Rick Bright, Beth Cameron, Caroline Chen, Tom Frieden, Alex Greninger, Kim Jin Yong, Max Kennedy, Victoria Kim, James Lawler, Eva Lee, Francis Riedo, Kathleen Sebelius, Michael Shear, Vladimir Zelenko
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Alex Gibney, Suzanne Hillinger, Ophelia Harutyunyan
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 123
Date: 10/16/2020

Totally Under Control (2020)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Corona Non Grata

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

As he has done so effectively many times before, filmmaker Alex Gibney takes a hard, clear, cool-headed look at government corruption, and, in this case, shocking ineptitude and negligence as well.

In Totally Under Control, Gibney covers the timeline of the COVID-19/Coronavirus outbreak of 2020, starting with the first case discovered in Seattle in January. But all of it is compounded by the Trump administration, which, at every turn, refused to take the disease seriously.

Totally Under Control — the title taken from a misleading statement made by President Donald Trump — is a superlative work of journalism, even going behind the scenes a little to show how the movie itself was made safely during the pandemic. We can see layers of plastic surrounding special cameras, designed so that interviewees can speak, safely and unmasked, directly to the camera, and to the viewer.

Speaking with more than a dozen professionals, Gibney and co-directors Ophelia Harutyunyan and Suzanne Hillinger piece together a timeline, and explain it with more clarity than the day-to-day news reports had time for. For example, the CDC's faulty test kits are analyzed more fully, and it turns out that the error could have been easily corrected if the emergency had been given the gravity it warranted.

But Totally Under Control also looks at the Trump administration, whose virus task force consisted mainly of people who had no expertise on the subject ("loyalty was more important than knowledge"), and who consistently downplayed its danger. All in all, while the documentary may date very quickly, it serves as an important testament for the moment in which it arrives.

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