TV Review - Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama Bin Laden

Freddie Rodriguez (left) and Cam Gigandet
in "Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama Bin Laden"
This movie premiered on the National Geographic Channel last year before the release of Zero Dark Thirty (2012), but I am only now seeing it after viewing Kathryn Bigelow's film. As such, I was comparing the two as I watched. This is perhaps unfair but unfortunately unavoidable. This is ultimately to the movie's detriment, but I feel in a lot of ways seeing Zero Dark Thirty first helped my viewing of this one.

What Bigelow's Oscar-winning film did was carefully and methodically lay out the steps that the CIA took, the bread crumbs the CIA followed, in order to find Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 tragedy in the United States. Writer Kendall Lampkin doesn't do that here. He instead takes a shorthand, a shorthand that is perhaps the bare minimum for understanding how the CIA were led to the most infamous terrorist.

That shorthand is aided greatly if you've seen Bigelow's film. The details, depth and importance behind that shorthand are lost here. It takes away any relevance over having the scenes with the CIA in this movie at all. There is a Maya equivalent named Vivian Hollins, played by Kathleen Robertson. Jessica Chastain's Oscar-nominated performance clearly eclipses Robertson's. It's mainly due to Robertson not getting as much screen time, but, with the shorthand, Robertson having any screen time at all seems pointless.

Whereas President Barack Obama only appeared in one scene in Zero Dark Thirty, Obama is a constant presence here. Director John Stockwell (Crazy/Beautiful and Blue Crush) weaves in stock footage and news clippings of Obama like a documentary. Soundbites, post-Bin Laden's death, memos and other official documents tell the tale and attempts to put us in Obama's mindset, even during an ironic moment at the 2011 White House Correspondents' Dinner. With that tactic, Hollins and all the CIA stuff are meaningless.

What this movie also makes meaningless is the so-called torture controversy that Zero Dark Thirty had swirling around it. Instead of showing a prisoner being tortured, this movie only shows someone being threatened with possible torture. Regardless of whether or not torture was shown, the representation of the use of torture by the American government was never a problem for me. The idea though that the American government entered a sovereign nation and basically carried out a murder is a bit of a problem.

As I said in my review of Zero Dark Thirty, I don't understand why people made a big deal over water being poured over a guy's head but don't care about a guy being shot in the head in the middle of the night in his own bedroom. At least in Bigelow's movie, Bin Laden's death isn't celebrated. It's not a triumphant moment. Here, Stockwell does celebrate it. He does use triumphant music. It seems odd that people would have a problem with torture and not murder. Yes, I understand Bin Laden is an evil person, but it is the equivalent of dancing on someone's grave or cheering during an execution. It's inhumane and rather ugly.

It's a great counter point to make between both movies. Zero Dark Thirty opens with September 11, 2001 and goes year-by-year to May 2, 2011, the day Bin Laden was killed. Along the way, Bigelow's film builds this idea that Bin Laden's death is an act of revenge. Chastain's Maya, in fact, makes it clear that she doesn't want Bin Laden captured alive. She clearly wants him killed. Here, Stockwell's movie doesn't make that clear. Of course, we know what's going to happen, so there isn't a real question, but the opportunity to question it is available to Stockwell. Yet, he doesn't really make good use of it.

The group of men, the Navy Seals who are called to kill Bin Laden, is known as Seal Team Six. Bigelow refers to them as the canaries. She makes them instruments of the government, Maya's arms in a way. They're not really individuals whom we're supposed to know. If we identify with them, it's only due to the performances of recognizable actors like Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt and Taylor Kinney, but for the most part they're faceless assassins.

For Stockwell's movie, they're not faceless. They're instead men with names and families. Lampkin invents back stories that are totally fictionalized, but it's meant to humanize the Navy Seals more than Bigelow's film does. Anson Mount (Hell on Wheels) stars as Cherry, the self-described hotheaded redneck. Cam Gigandet (The O.C. and Never Back Down) co-stars as Stunner, the team leader who's the 31-year-old surfer boy.

Cherry is older than Stunner. Yet, Cherry has to take orders from Stunner and that's a source of friction between the two. There is an even greater source of friction that occurs in the late summer and early fall of 2010, which is where the narrative of the Navy Seals begins. It's also a great piece of drama to put on their plates. They talk about it later and allows us insight into not only Cherry and Stunner but also a few of the other Navy Seals, including Trench, played by Freddie Rodriguez (Six Feet Under) and Mule, played by rapper Xzibit (Gridiron Gang and The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans).

Sadly, we get insight into these men, but it's hardly enough. Stockwell keeps going back to the meaningless CIA stuff. He also keeps going to another subplot that is functional but not as important as it could have been. The CIA employs two Middle Eastern men to help the American government identify Abu Ahmed, the courier in Pakistan who worked for Bin Laden and who ultimately led the CIA to Bin Laden's not-so-secret compound. These two Middle Eastern men were basically on a stakeout.

It would have been interesting to get to know these men. Where did they come from? Do they have families? How were they recruited? It's almost as if the filmmakers wanted to explain a plot point that didn't need that much explaining, but if the movie was going to go there, some depth would have been appreciated.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-14.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 29 mins.


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