Totally Under Control breaks down President Trump’s homicidal pandemic response

Film by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Drive-through Covid testing

Totally Under Control
Now playing, VOD

4 out of 5

Odds are at this stage of the pandemic you’re sick of hearing about COVID. Nevertheless, documentary powerhouse Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Taxi to the Dark Side) asks us to revisit the early days of the epidemic one more time and, boy, is it ever worth it.

Totally Under Control concentrates the numerous “mistakes” of the Trump administration’s handling the crisis in two hours. This simple approach makes a strong case for criminal negligence: a mix of incompetence, hubris and blind mercantilism helped the virus ravage Americans lives. U.S. President Donald Trump can spin it however he wants but the key figures are four per cent of the world population and 20 per cent of the deaths.

The film rehashes Trump’s early dismissals of the pandemic but focuses on the administration’s most far-reaching failings. The original breakdown can be traced back to America’s patient zero, an individual returning to Washington State from Wuhan. In spite of abundant evidence as early as January that this was a highly contagious and potentially lethal disease, no contact tracing was done. For an honestly ridiculous amount of time (a month!!!), authorities treated patient zero like an isolated case and they didn’t test anybody else.

The list of screw-ups is as long as a grave ditch: abandoning the Obama pandemic playbook out of spite; putting a yes-man in charge of the CDC; no country-wide testing until very late; intentionally slowing testing to keep numbers low; removing mask use from the surgeon general’s list of recommendations; not addressing personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages until months into the pandemic; pushing states to compete to acquire said PPE; and peddling drugs (hydroxychloroquine) without scientifically establishing their effectiveness and driving prices up as a side-effect.

This inventory of idiocy and craven malfeasance seems comedically implausible, but

Totally Under Control frequently reminds us the source of every mishap: a wannabe despot facing re-election with only one arrow in his quiver — a healthy economy. Nearly every bad decision can be traced back to Trump desperately protecting the illusion of wealth for his own benefit.

Gibney and team frequently use South Korea as point of comparison and it’s truly embarrassing. Authorities there acted quickly and decisively. The Korean government let scientists call the shots, many of them U.S. educated people who used American textbooks to develop a plan. South Korea never shut down its economy, and has had only 25,000 cases and fewer than 500 deaths. See, kids? Good things happen when you make decisions based on science and facts.

I practically dislocated my neck shaking my head while watching this doc. It’s not like Alex Gibney makes earth-shattering discoveries through the film — everything had been published, even the story of the unpaid volunteers tasked by the White House to find PPE abroad — but in the current climate, there’s value in dispassionately putting two and two together.

Totally Under Control’s only weak spotis the absence of original footage. Sure, all the interviews are new and powerful — particularly the former director of BARDA, Rick Bright, who torched the administration’s response and found himself out of a job — but we’ve either seen the images or we’re so desensitized to them, they can fail to break through (granted, a widespread health emergency doesn’t make it easy).

Regardless, nobody who watches this movie could in good conscience cast their vote for the Cheeto Menace. Then again, cult members are not known for rational decision-making.