Bin Laden film just in time for US vote

2012-11-02 12:01
A scene from the film dramatising the night raid on Osama Bin Laden's compound in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad. (Geronimo Nevada, LLC / National Geographic Channels / Ursula Coyote, AFP)

A scene from the film dramatising the night raid on Osama Bin Laden's compound in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad. (Geronimo Nevada, LLC / National Geographic Channels / Ursula Coyote, AFP)

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Washington - Timing is everything in show business, but the director of the first movie about the commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden doubts its television premiere on Sunday will swing the US election.

Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden raised eyebrows when it was announced last month that it would screen for the first time on the National Geographic cable channel just two days before America votes.

Fueling the buzz was the fact that Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, a prominent fundraiser for President Barack Obama, is the distributor and one of the executive producers of the 90-minute action thriller.

In an interview on Thursday, director John Stockwell shrugged off suggestions that his film is some kind of prime-time Obama propaganda tool to sway voters less than 48 hours before polls open.

"It was never written or shot to do that," he said.

"Are there people out there who don't know that it was on this president's watch that Osama bin Laden was killed, and that this movie informs them of that? I would be surprised."

Archive footage

The daring May 2011 dead-of-night operation by US Navy Seals against the al-Qaeda leader who ordered the 9/11 attacks was a defining moment of Obama's first term.

The president turns up often in the film, which was shot in Khopoli, India and Santa Fe, New Mexico, but only in the form of archive footage - much of it pulled from the White House website.

Cam Gigandet, a vampire tracker in Twilight, stars as the leader of the tight-knit Seal team that also includes rapper Xzibit. Kathleen Robertson, from the original Beverly Hills, 90210 series, portrays an intense CIA analyst.

Inexplicably uncredited are Bollywood stars Maninder Singh and Rajesh Shringarpore, who play local CIA operatives who risk their lives staking out Obama's fortified lair in Pakistan.

Cast as bin Laden is Yon Kempton, who speaks no lines before he is shot twice and killed in a dark room with a Kalashnikov in his hand.

Stockwell, whose previous credits include the 2002 surfer girl movie Blue Crush, said it was the National Geographic Channel - part of conservative Rupert Murdoch's media empire - that picked Sunday as the premiere date.

Reversal

"It has only one goal, and that is for as many people as possible to watch this," added Robertson, speaking by telephone from New York. "They want ratings."

The film goes on to Netflix streaming video on Monday, then cinemas from Thursday, in a 180-degree reversal of the way a movie usually goes out into the world.

Seal Team Six also precedes another film about the hunt for bin Laden: Zero Dark Thirty by director Kathryn Bigelow, who collected the best-film Academy Award in 2009 for the Iraq war movie The Hurt Locker.

Sony Pictures has pushed back its general release to January 2013, but like Seal Team Six it's been lambasted before anyone's seen it as glorifying Obama's role in bin Laden's demise.

Stockwell called Bigelow "a very talented filmmaker", but added that her production - with a bigger budget, judging by its YouTube trailer - is "probably a very different movie".

Ironically, the French producer of "Seal Team Six", Nicolas Chartier, was a producer of The Hurt Locker.

Internal conflict

Stockwell spoke to current and former Seals, intelligence personnel and White House officials as part of his research, but only off the record, with no way to double-check their information.

"I certainly had no official co-operation and I had no official access to anything," said Stockwell, who goes to Puerto Rico this weekend to direct mixed martial arts champ Gina Carano in In the Blood, an action thriller.

"The fascinating thing for me... was how much internal conflict there was within the intelligence community, within the White House and the Department of Defense, and all the ways it could have turned out badly."

Much of Seal Team Six was filmed before the publication in August of No Easy Day, written under a pseudonym by a member of the real-life Seal team who claimed that bin Laden was unarmed when he was killed.

"We know the ending [of the operation to kill bin Laden], but even to this day I don't have certainty on the beginning and the middle," Stockwell said.

"The truth is, 10 years from now, we may not know the entire story of this mission... Who's to say what the real, completely factual version is?"

Meanwhile, Robertson - currently starring in the TV series Boss, a political drama set in Chicago - admitted to being somewhat bemused by the furore that's erupted over the release of Seal Team Six.

"I've been asked a lot of American politically-based questions which I feel slightly odd answering," she said, "because I'm Canadian."

Read more on:    al-qaeda  |  barack obama  |  osama bin laden  |  us  |  us elections 2012
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