September 11th, 2001 was a date that created a before and after for the entire world. What happened that day was a tragedy of biblical proportions, and it was broadcast live around the planet for everyone to see. It was the first live-world tragedy event. A war began that day, and the events that followed the incident were darker and more insidious than many people ever thought they could be. This is a review of the new Netflix documentary “The Anthrax Attacks”, a film that deals with one of the following events of 9/11.
The Anthrax Attacks is written and directed by Dan Krauss and tells the story of the anthrax attacks following the September 11th tragedy. A series of attacks using a strain of the disease were mostly executed by using the American postal service system. A system with hundreds of years of age, and that ironically made the guilty partners almost untraceable. The documentary focuses on the people who were part of the attacks or were involved in the investigation surrounding those attacks.
Krauss is a veteran documentarian, and it shows as The Anthrax Attacks flows extremely well by delivering information at a good pace and always making the audience ask questions about what is happening on screen at the time. Thankfully, Krauss never lets things linger for long, and the answers come as regularly as he can offer them. It is clear that there was a lot of research involved in this project, and it is very informative and educational as the incidents have been mostly forgotten in the shadow of 9/11.
However, just recently, Krauss also moved into fiction filmmaking, with a film called “The Kill Team” in 2019. The film was produced by A24 and received mixed reviews, but it showed that Krauss could move between both worlds efficiently. The thing is that Kraus also thinks in the same way; he believes he can do both, and he certainly can. However, it would be nice if he chose one or the other and not both at the same time.
Krauss chooses a different way to make his documentary. On one hand, we have the standard format that uses archive footage and interviews with the people who lived the events. The interviews are all shot in this very dramatic way, with a score that announces that something bad is coming at every corner. It keeps the audience’s attention on the screen, and it really manipulates you into thinking that what you’re watching is more interesting than it is.
On the other hand, we have a sort of dramatization where Clark Gregg, yes, Agent Coulson himself, plays the part of one of the scientists involved in the investigation. The casting of such a well-known face in such a role, screams spoilers for the rest of the film. But Krauss doesn’t care about that, he thinks the process of reaching that conclusion is interesting enough to overcome telegraphing some revelations. He might be right. Gregg and the rest of the actors in these scenes do a great job at it.
As the documentary goes along and the story becomes more and more interesting, you can see that this entire story could have been made into a very cool detective-style movie with Gregg as the main protagonist of the film. It is a shame because while the style makes the documentary certainly different from many others out there, both pieces of the film also seem to cancel one another. They could be great as separate entities, but together they feel like incomplete projects, and they are just fine.
The story itself is quite interesting. The documentary presents the situation as one that reveals the many weaknesses of the United States of American internal security. When someone uses the country’s own postal service to distribute Anthrax among the citizens, and you can track where a particular letter came from and who sent it, well, you have a bigger problem in your hand. It is all presented in a very grim, almost dystopic way.
Most of the security forces are also presented as unprepared to deal with terrorist attacks involving diseases or any sort of bioweapon. It all comes across as very disturbing, especially when the forces think they can just sweep the situation under the rug by finding a scapegoat. It puts into consideration that sometimes the truth isn’t as important as what is the truth that the people are perceiving. It is a very dangerous and controversial topic, and it is great that the documentary discusses it.
The Anthrax Attacks is an interesting documentary. The film is trying to make things different, but sadly by separating its attention on two fronts, the entire project feels a bit incomplete and scattered. It would have been great if Krauss could have gotten the money to make an entire film with actors, leaving the documentary aspect behind. Gregg does a great job and his role, and it makes you want to see more of him. The Anthrax Attacks is solid, but it could have been so much better with a bit of focus on its parts.