Zero Dark Thirty has been on the mouths of a lot of film fans as of late, particularly after receiving an Academy Award nomination for best film. But before Kathryn Bigelow’s epic hit theaters in mid-December, another film detailing the hunt for terrorist Osama Bin Laden got to the party first. Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama Bin Laden is a made-for-TV film that came out six weeks before Zero Dark Thirty and just days before the 2012 Presidential Election. More on why THAT is important in a moment.
Now It is not fair to compare the two films…One is a $40 million dollar budget, nearly three hour film helmed by Bigelow who has already won an Oscar for Best Director. The other is a 90 minute film that debuted not on HBO, Showtime, FX, or even A&E, but on the National Geographic Channel, and Directed by John Stockwell, a guy best known as an actor in 80s films such as Christine, Top Gun, and Losin’ it.
So obviously with only 90 minutes we’re getting a seriously abridged version of the events that led to the raid on Bin Laden’s compound. A captured prisoner gives up the name of Bin Laden’s courier which eventually leads to the CIA tracking Bin Laden down at the compound in Pakistan. Two Pakistani CIA operatives setup a stakeout at a nearby apartment complex as they try to confirm that Bin Laden is actually inside the facility. Meanwhile an elite Navy SEAL is put on alert and begins training for a mission although they initially are not told who the target of the mission is.
Despite the overwhelming feeling that, yeah, this is definitely a made-for-TV movie, things are OK up until this point but things go downhill from there. Despite the fact that this film should need no padding whatsoever, the odious script gives us some dreck where one of the SEAL team members gets into a wrestling match with the leader over who SHOULD be the team leader. Now let me say that I have the highest respect in the world for the actual courageous soldiers who pulled off this daring raid but this film makes them look like immature high school goofs. If these really were the men sent on the mission it’s likely Bin Laden would still be on the loose.
The story also plays fast and loose with the facts. As Stockwell admits in the making of featurette, we may never know all of the actual details but it’s clear the film is wrong on several points such as showing Bin Laden armed with an AK-47 before he was shot. But perhaps the worst part of the film is that is an unapologetic pro-Obama propaganda film. It’s not by coincidence that the film debuted just days before the election.
President Obama’s presence hangs over the film from beginning to end. The film uses actual news footage from the time like the Correspondent’s Dinner attended by numerous Hollywood celebs as well as audio from interviews with Obama about the raid. I applaud the President for approving the raid when others in the administration advised against it, but you’d think that Obama led the raid himself by the way Stockwell portrays him. And predictably the film closes with Obama’s announcement to the American public about the killing of Bin Laden.
Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama Bin Laden is not only a disservice to the brave men who participated in the mission but it’s a disservice to good filmmaking.
Behind-the-scenes featurette (17:00) Director John Stockwell and cast members discuss the making of the film.