Totally Under Control

Movie Information

Alex Gibney's collaborative documentary is the definitive cinematic chronicle of the COVID-19 pandemic’s first year.
Genre: Documentary
Director: Alex Gibney, Ophelia Harutyunyan and Suzanne Hillinger
Starring: Kathleen Sebelius, Rick Bright, Taison Bell
Rated: NR

Made through innovative means, featuring interviewees on multiple continents and completed one day before Donald Trump reported testing positive for COVID-19, Totally Under Control is thus far the definitive cinematic chronicle of the coronavirus pandemic’s first year.

Prolific documentarian and corruption-exposer Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room), working with Ophelia Harutyunyan and Suzanne Hillinger, has crafted a slick, nimble and authoritative film on the Trump administration’s repeated failures to heed the advice of experts, and lays out the case in such clear, convincing fashion that, after viewing it, a second term for the sitting U.S. president seems inconceivable.

The trio of collaborators utilize a wide breadth of archival and original footage and — thanks to an invention called the “COVID cam,” which allows for remote filmed discussions — compelling testimony from public health officials whose efforts to contain the virus’s spread early on were squelched for various maddening reasons.

Few, if any, revelations will be news to viewers who’ve been paying even minimal attention in 2020, but there’s nevertheless significant power in the film’s chronological, seemingly comprehensive presentation of global events of the past 10 months.

However, after nearly two hours of carefully conceived buildup, it’s a bit of a shock when Totally Under Control comes to its end with a sense of having much more ground to cover. Whether that incomplete feeling is a result of the filmmakers rushing to get their documentary on screens before the Nov. 3 election and/or an inherent downside of covering a topic that’s far from resolved — the mere desire to experience another half hour or more of humanity’s recent plight under their guidance is a testament to the film’s effectiveness.

Available to rent via

About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA).

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.