Wednesday, February 21, 2018
TV and Media

Docudrama on Osama Bin Laden raid set to air before election

There's no getting around a crucial fact about the new docudrama airing Sunday on National Geographic Channel, Seal Team Six: the Raid on Osama bin Laden.

It's a highly complimentary movie, backed by vocal President Obama supporter Harvey Weinstein, dramatizing one of the biggest achievements of the Democratic president's administration, airing days before a razor-thin election.

Seal Team Six tries sidestepping that inconvenient truth by focusing on the unnamed strike by team members and intelligence analysts who figured out that bin Laden was hiding at a sprawling compound in Pakistan, developing a risky plan to storm the facility and take him out.

Well-known government officials are shown mostly in real news footage or photos, though an actor plays the voice of then-CIA director Leon Panetta, sworn in as defense secretary two months after the raid. Kathleen Robertson (Starz's Boss) plays Vivian Hollins, the analyst known for doggedly pursuing rumors about bin Laden until she cobbled together enough evidence to push the White House into green lighting a strike.

"Being obsessed with a target is like having a one-way affair," she says in one of many confessional interview scenes. "It's secret and you can't stop thinking about him and you're always alone. The only question is how it will end."

Unfortunately, that question has been answered for most everyone who will see Seal Team Six; even operational details have been made public, thanks to "Mark Owen," a member of the real team who wrote a book under a pseudonym.

So this film — rushed onto TV before Zero Dark Thirty, a movie for theaters about the raid from The Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow — is instead mired in cliches about the heroism of U.S. soldiers and the frustration of intelligence gathering.

Seal Team Six succeeds best when showing how Pakistani "assets" on the ground used technology and courage to gather information on bin Laden's compound. This film might resonate more if Showtime hadn't created Homeland, a textured story about terrorism featuring a bipolar CIA analyst. After seeing the series, this film's rushed collage of efforts feels more like a low-budget Mission Impossible movie.

Political conservatives will hate seeing the victory lap allowed the current administration in this film, which features the president's speech to the nation about bin Laden's death and earlier clips of then-GOP candidate John McCain criticizing Obama.

But I mourn the resources wasted on a simplistic film that strands great character actors — including Anson Mount (Hell on Wheels) as a no-nonsense SEAL — in cookie-cutter roles.

Fear not; this film won't change anybody's vote. But I hope it will convince other filmmakers that you need more than jingoistic pandering to turn one of history's best-known manhunts into a truly compelling movie.

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