'SEAL Team Six: The Raid on Osama Bin Laden' -- History, Propaganda or Both (or Neither)?
Recently, I headed to the Twentieth Century Fox lot to attend a screening of "SEAL Team Six: The Raid on Osama Bin Laden," airing tonight (Sunday, Nov 4) on the National Geographic Channel (which, for those keeping score, is primarily owned by the Fox Cable Networks, a division of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., which also owns Fox Broadcasting and Fox News).
It outlines one of President Barack Obama's proudest moments, when a team of highly trained Navy SEALs, following intelligence gathered over time by courageous and skilled operatives, raided a compound in Pakistan and killed Osama Bin Laden, the terror mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks.
There's been much controversy over whether the timing of this film is meant to bolster Obama's re-election chances on Tuesday. Howard T. Owens, the head of National Geographic Channel, has said that politics didn't figure into the scheduling. But one of the film's backers, Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, is a well-known Democratic contributor and Obama supporter.
According to a piece in the New York Times, the film was recut to include more news and documentary footage of Obama, gathered by Meghan O'Hara, who has worked with Michael Moore on "Farenheit 9/11" and "Sicko." In the same piece, it says that Owens insisted on the removal of a scene that appeared to imply that Republican challenger Gov. Mitt Romney opposed the raid.
Click here to see the footage that was removed.
In addition, director John Stockwell had this to say to Entertainment Weekly:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Is there anything you'd like to make clear about Harvey Weinstein's involvement with the film?
JOHN STOCKWELL: Well, he didn't make me change the story so that it's the president who fires the fatal shot that kills Osama bin Laden. Honestly, he's so into this story, he's so proud of our special forces and our intelligence community. He did afford us the ability to get some stock footage and news footage into the movie, the same way he did with The Queen and The Iron Lady. He didn't choose the date, that was chosen by the National Geographic Channel, and they are majority owned by [News Corporation's Fox Cable Networks], so I don't think it was a political decision -- at least not one that was intended to get the president re-elected. Harvey came in really late in the game, after I'd done my director's cut, so he didn't influence the actual movie very much.
"SEAL Team Six" also is available on Netflix starting Monday and is showing in theaters internationally.
Perhaps for the handful of people in the U.S. that don't know that the president authorized the raid, it might have an influence. On the other hand, if you don't know about the raid and you're planning to vote on Tuesday, the cause of democracy might be better served by you getting a bit more up to speed.
Otherwise, as pointed out by the Hollywood Reporter's Tim Goodman i n his review, it's a story whose particulars and conclusion are already well known (which can't quite be said about the current controversy regarding the deaths of four Americans in a terror raid on our consulate in Benghazi, Libya, or when full power and services will be restored on in the New York City borough of Staten Island in the wake of Hurricane Sandy).
As to the film itself, it stars "Hell on Wheels" lead Anson Mount (above, sporting his "Hell" long hair and beard) as Cherry, a "redneck" member of the team; and Kathleen Robertson as intelligence officer Vivian Hollin (sporting the same clear-rimmed glasses and tight skirts she's worn on Starz' "Boss"). There's also a bit of a "Prison Break" reunion, with scenes featuring both William Fitchner and Robert Knepper.
<<<Speaking of Hurricane Sandy, Mount tweeted out this today:
If u watch ST6 tonight n think it's worth admission price, donate to Salvation Army Sandy relief and post "I LOVE NYC">>>
Rounding out the cast are Cam Gigandet, Freddy Rodriguez, rapper Xzibit, Kenneth Miller and Eddy Kayte Thomas.
While the news footage of the president and his advisers feels like an aftermarket add-on, the story of the actual raid is a tidy little scripted drama, actually shot in New Mexico. It's not on the scale expected in Kathryn Bigelow's upcoming feature film on the same subject, "Zero Dark Thirty," but I enjoyed the pacing and action (although there's a bit too much interpersonal and family drama among the team, which just slows things down).
For me, it worked as a fact-inspired action thriller, and I really enjoyed Mount in the role, to which he brought toughness, intelligence and a wry sense of humor. I hope he gets to do more contemporary action drama. Desert camo suits him well.
As for politics, while the president got to claim the victory -- and is seen doing so -- there are also scenes where the slow pace of White House decision-making frustrates intelligence officers.
However, while the film shows the staged vaccination drive that allowed U.S. intelligence to obtain DNA from Bin Laden offspring to confirm that he was the tall individual sighted in the compound, it fails to mention that Pakistani Dr. Shakil Afridi -- also seen in the film -- was sentenced by Pakistani officials this past spring to 33 years in jail on charges of treason.
Recently, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul wrote an op-ed calling for his release. Perhaps this will be addressed in a postscript when the movie airs. We'll see.
Since "SEAL Team Six" is a docudrama, it's impossible to know just how much is docu and how much is drama, so if you're basing your vote one way or the other on this movie, you may want to draw on some additional criteria before making a choice.