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TV review: 'SEAL Team Six' macho, but not moving

ElectionsOsama bin LadenPoliticsEntertainmentDocumentary (genre)MoviesBarack Obama

"SEAL Team Six: The Raid on Osama Bin Laden" (7 p.m. Nov. 4, Nat Geo; 2 stars) does the impossible: It makes the clandestine and no doubt harrowing U.S. mission that killed Osama bin Laden kind of dull.

Republicans have complained that the fictionalized tale could sway the outcome of Tuesday's elections toward President Barack Obama because it shows the operation in a positive light. I'll give credit to part of the argument: The film does show a lot of Obama. But there's no other way to show the mission; it was a success after all.

Still, conservatives needn't worry. "SEAL Team Six" isn't good enough to sway any voter.

Parts of the film work well as it recounts the gathering of intelligence on the whereabouts of the al-Qaida mastermind, efforts to get the president's approval to take action, and finally the May 2, 2011, Navy SEAL raid of the bin Laden compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. But by mixing real news footage of the president and various terrorist attacks with made-up dialogue and wobbly dramatizations of military actions, director John Stockwell and exec producer Harvey Weinstein achieve neither a revealing documentary nor a riveting drama.

I admit that I find docu-dramas "based on reality" frustrating. Viewers never t know what is true and what isn't. The only fact I know is definitely not fiction in "SEAL Team Six" is that we killed Osama bin Laden. But I already knew that.

"Boss" star Kathleen Robertson plays Vivian Hollins, a CIA analyst who admits to being obsessed about catching bin Laden since the Sept. 11 attack on the Twin Towers. Hollins may or may not be based on a real person. (Or maybe she's just based on Claire Danes' Carrie character in "Homeland?") I want to know if a Hollins existed (same with the characters played by Eddie Kay Thomas and William Fichtner), and what parts of her crusade within the CIA and National Security Council really happened. In other words, give me a factual documentary of a historical event like this.

"SEAL Team Six" also falls short as a piece of fiction because we're not allowed to get to know the people involved. There's almost no character development here, which makes it hard for viewers to root for someone. Certainly we're supposed to root for the SEALs--the script shouts out that they're heroes time and again--but when team leader Stunner (Cam Gigandet) and rebellious soldier Cherry (Anson Mount) go at it, who do we back?

I understand that these people work in secret and that we'll likely never know a lot about them, but the book "No Easy Day: The First Hand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama bin Laden" lifted the curtain a little on the world of SEALs. Couldn't we get more of that here? (It will be interesting to see how director Kathryn Bigelow handles the issue in her theatrical take on the raid, "Zero Dark Thirty.")

Besides, that's where the fiction should be put to use. Let these people reveal themselves as heroes, don't just tell us we should see them that way. Except for a touching and effective scene in which some of these men Skype with family members before heading out on the operation, we don't know much about them save that they are macho and patriotic.

What little else we learn about the men--which also include Mule (Xzibit), Trench (Chicago native Freddy Rodriguez), Sauce (Kenneth Miller) and their boss, who is simply billed as Lt. Commander (Robert Knepper)--is gleaned from the rather lazy conceit of having them talk to the camera in fake interviews. By doing this, Stockwell commits the sin of telling, not showing. And that gets so boring.

The movie holds these men and women up as heroes, but it makes them rather bland cardboard cutouts.



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