SEAL Team Six
The National Geographic Channel might have won the race to be the first to portray the events that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden -- beating Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty to the big screen by rushing to the small screen -- but we all know being the first isn't necessarily the same as being the best.
Nat Geo will air SEAL Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden on Nov. 4 (after it opened in theaters internationally beginning Oct. 26 in Mexico). The film comes from The Weinstein Co. and is directed by John Stockwell (Into the Blue, Turistas) and produced by Nicolas Chartier, a producer on The Hurt Locker, Bigelow's Academy Award-winning film.
Both SEAL Team Six and Zero Dark Thirty have been pre-emptively called enablers for President Obama because the killing of bin Laden was a major coup for him. But SEAL Team Six will come under more scrutiny because it will air two days before the election and then be available the next day on Netflix.
Still, it's hard to imagine this film (or even the unseen Zero Dark Thirty) moving the needle on an election. Why? Everyone knows how it ended. The whole thing is in the history books.
And yet if any Republicans are worried this sneaky little move by Nat Geo and The Weinstein Co. will be a knockout blow or even a jab in this election, they should rest easy. Because the film isn't that good.
All the compelling parts are precisely as you'd imagine them to be -- the intelligence reports, the decision to attack and finally the nerve-racking mission itself, based according to the press kit on speculative accounts given to Stockwell by ex-Navy SEALs. But it doesn't take a genius dramatist to understand: When the SEALs enter the compound, you know they're not going to be killed. You know they're going to get bin Laden.
So, where's the drama? Technically, you just need a director and a budget that can make the whole thing pulse-pounding and badass. Parts of SEAL Team Six have that, but the 90-minute film misses an essential element it needed (and Bigelow's film will need): character development.
Stockwell's film resorts to the now-boring conceit of having the participants talk to the camera. This exposition is not only a cheat -- cutting corners by telling when it could be showing -- it never lets the audience feel anything for the characters.
SEAL Team Six stars Cam Gigandet as Stunner, the team leader; Anson Mount as Cherry, the more renegade SEAL who has trouble being led by the younger Stunner; Alvin "Xzibit" Joiner playing Mule; Freddy Rodriguez as Trench; and, rounding out the team, Kenneth Miller as Sauce.
The problem is that Gigandet is allowed almost no time to show the audience he's the team leader. Mount steals the better material, and only in rare flashes do we learn anything about the others. There's so little of Sauce in the film that he's barely a seasoning. You can't mine drama from characters you're not manipulated into liking or loathing.
The person who gets the most mileage out of SEAL Team Six is Kathleen Robertson as Vivian Hollins, a CIA analyst who has been hell-bent obsessed on getting bin Laden since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The problem is, all any fan of Homeland -- the Showtime series that just swept the Emmys -- will think is that Robertson essentially is Claire Danes playing Carrie, a CIA analyst hell-bent obsessed on bringing down the fictional Abu Nazir after Sept. 11. Robertson, who does great work on Boss, isn't given anything remotely interesting for her character -- such as Carrie's mental issues and her love of jazz -- and instead gets the most cliched, rote dialogue to read as she talks to the camera in those faux interviews.
That's not to say that some of the combat scenes in SEAL Team Six are not riveting. But with nearly no emotional interest in these undeveloped characters, the movie feels more like it was tossed together in an effort to be first on any screen -- small or large.
SEAL Team Six is interspersed with photos and interviews of Obama and the players around him during that difficult decision-making process, and if you're really into that sort of thing, you could spot one or two moments that look like political ads. A photo of Obama mulling over something enormous certainly gives him gravitas, and there's more than a few shots with American flags after the news of bin Laden's death.
But this is a movie that feels like a documentary at times, a cheesy docudrama at others and some kind of slapped-together film that wants to be taken seriously as well.
What is interesting is that in the Nat Geo press materials, Stockwell brings up a series of interesting questions in a "director's statement." Unfortunately, they're not in the movie. Stockwell rambles through a series of alternate scenarios: "What if bin Laden had fled the compound when he heard the approaching choppers? Would we have pursued him through the streets of Abbottabad?"
What if, indeed. What if Stockwell was able to convey the actual events imaginatively and dramatically? That would have been something.
Kathryn Bigelow, what have you got?
Airdate: 8 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 4 (National Geographic Channel)