Since this movie about the killing of Osama bin Laden has become one of those projects people have opinions about before seeing, let’s get a few facts out there.
“SEAL Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden,” premiering on National Geographic Channel Sunday, Nov. 4, is a fine, taut film. It is not, despite the buzz among some in the blogosphere, a political statement.
It is from producer Harvey Weinstein, a well-known Democrat. But even a Hollywood mogul cannot change the fact that bin Laden was killed on President Barack Obama’s watch.
“We didn’t consult anybody political,” Weinstein tells Zap2it. “We used historians that were apolitical. And we spoke to people from the SEALs, who were not political, not somebody who went on the mission. Just the whole idea was to make it not political. It was vetted by people in the CIA as well — not Democrats.”
Weinstein, known for movies such as “Shakespeare in Love” and “The Artist,” went with a TV release instead of a theatrical one because, he says, “We were going to do 3,000 theaters. National Geographic and Netflix made us an offer we couldn’t refuse. And it was a great offer financially and gave it some immediacy.”
This marks NatGeo’s first foray into feature films.
The timing, two days before the election, is “certainly topical,” Weinstein says. It doesn’t hurt that this also beats, by about six weeks, another movie about the killing of bin Laden.
“This is the best of ‘The Bourne Identity’ meets a supergreat documentary,” the producer says. “And the most important is it’s a superpatriotic movie. That is what it’s about — our tribute to the armed forces, and American forces so we could take out one of the great villains of our lifetime.”
Weinstein talks about the excellent work the intelligence and armed forces did in finding and killing bin Laden. He points to a composite character in the film, Vivian.
“Vivian is the only female working on the team,” says Kathleen Robertson (“Boss”) of her character. “She is a senior counterintelligence analyst. Her identity is very much wrapped up in her job. She has sacrificed everything for what she does for a living and what she believes in.”
The film, which also stars Anson Mount (“Hell on Wheels”),William Fichtner (“Entourage”), Cam Gigandet (“Priest”) and Xzibit (“8 Mile”), does an excellent job of taking an event we think we know very well and giving more insight into the behind-the-scenes machinations. Far trickier is that it successfully spins such a tight tale of suspense; viewers will find themselves anxious despite, of course, knowing the outcome.
“It was funny,” Robertson says, “I saw it recently, as well, and when it was over, how was I sweating so much and nervous about the outcome – when I knew the outcome?”
The film focuses on intelligence agents and Navy SEALs. Freddy Rodriguez (“Six Feet Under”) says of his character, Trench, “he is the explosives expert. You see him blowing up a gate and doors. He is technically known as the breacher. His job is to breach doors whether with an explosive or an ax. Trench represents every American soldier that is out there.”
“You see him talking to his wife, and he is a representative of the average, working class, hardworking American out there doing everything he can to protect our country,” Rodriguez says.
There’s a montage in which the SEALs, knowing where they are going and not knowing if they will be coming out, Skype with their loved ones. One talks with his mom, another with his son and father, and Trench with his wife.
It was an emotionally tough movie to make.
“It was opening up wounds that still have not had time to heal and just us revisiting that time and the person,” Rodriguez says.
The movie weaves in news footage from the night bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan was breached. That same night, Obama was joking around with the Washington press corps at the Correspondents’ Dinner. It shows still photos of the moment the helicopter went down inside the compound and of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton covering her mouth, her eyes wide.
“One thing Harvey Weinstein did was get us access to historical footage we didn’t have access to, the news footage, the stock footage,” says director John Stockwell. “At one point I was hoping we would be able to get CIA surveillance footage. Even Harvey wasn’t able to pull that one off.
“There were elements that the Weinsteins actually cut because they could not be absolutely verified,” Stockwell continues.
Before shooting for 24 days in New Mexico and India, Stockwell “read everything I could, every article, every book. Most of the things that have since come out were not out when we were writing the script,” he says.
Ultimately, Stockwell says, he hopes viewers “will be really impressed by all the different forces involved to pull off this operation. People know about the military, and there is some idea of intelligence. And they don’t know as much about the local Pakistanis who put their lives at risk – Dr. Afridi, who ran the vaccination program (he aided Americans by gaining access to bin Laden’s compound). It was a pretty intricate operation, and I hope people take away how easily it could have gone south.”