'SEAL Team Six' review: Reduced the killing of Bin Laden to florid melodrama, with Obama as edited-in co-star

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Image Credit: Geronimo Nevada/National Geographic

The TV-movie SEAL Team Six: The Raid on Osama Bin Ladin, which aired on the National Geographic Channel on Sunday evening, turned the story of the hunt for and killing of Osama Bin Laden into a reasonably crisp little action film — it didn’t contain anything you didn’t know, and the dialogue sounded as though it had been checked out from a well-preserved World War II supply closet, but you couldn’t help but get caught up in the tense quality of the mission.

Directed by John Stockwell, the man who brought you that other daring mission, the search for Kate Bosworth’s bikini in Blue Crush (2002), SEAL Team Six featured a bunch of actors (including Hell On Wheels‘ Anson Mount and Six Feet Under‘s Freddy Rodriguez) playing composites of the real Navy SEAL team that executed Bin Laden on May 2, 2011, in Pakistan.

The production must have saved a few pennies on wardrobe and make-up for Kathleen Robertson, who portrayed CIA analyst Vivian Hollins, since Robertson wore the same severe eyeglasses, lip gloss, and spiky haircut as she does playing political operative Kitty on Starz’ Boss, also bringing with her the severely intelligent demeanor that serves her so well on that show.

Anything with Obama’s face that appears days before the election is going to be interpreted by many as pro-Obama, no matter what anyone says. Stockwell was aided by producer Harvey Weinstein, a Democratic supporter who reportedly supplied some money and editing advice to Six, but the movie didn’t play like a commercial for the reelection of Barack Obama. It plays like what it is — an only semi-factually-based military thriller, with footage and voiceover comments of Obama thrown in from time to time. The footage of Obama consisted primarily of his attendance at the White House Correspondents Dinner; the famous photograph of Obama, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and others staring intently at film of the raid; and a snippet of his comments to the nation after Bin Laden had been killed. Anyone asserting that SEAL Team Six is a plug for Obama would have to admit that any such movie would have to show that someone was President when this mission occurred, and the script affixed no halo over Obama’s head — instead, it cast a glowing light upon the heroism of the SEALs.

Indeed, SEAL Team Six regularly risked pumping up the adoration of the men with bravery, guns, and rigorous training to an almost ridiculous degree. It’s one thing to present all these men as heroes, which they were. It’s another to spend so much time with brawny scenes of them wrestling and jockeying for primo macho status, and maudlin scenes of them telecommunicating with loved ones. And most flagrantly, there were facing-the-camera interviews with the SEALs and Vivian, telling us their innermost thoughts. Who was meant to be conducting these interviews? Was this a debriefing? A test run for a 60 Minutes feature?

Ultimately, the movie’s flaws were dramatic choices, not political ones.

Twitter: @kentucker

For More: ‘SEAL Team Six’ director John Stockwell: Q&A

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