'SEAL Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden' on National Geographic Channel

We see bits and pieces of the team's motivation, the televised tragedy that lingers for everyone, the digital archive that will never be lost and might always be used for shifting ends.

SEAL Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden

Director: John Stockwell
Cast: Cam Gigandet, Anson Mount, Freddy Rodriquez, Xzibit, Kathleen Robertson, Eddie Kay Thomas, Kenneth Miller
Rated: NR
Year: 2012
US date: 2012-11-04 (National Geographic Channel)
We got rules, the other side don’t.

-- Cherry (Anson Mount)

"Being obsessed with a target is like having a one-way affair. It's secret and you can't stop thinking about him, but you're always alone. The only question is how it'll end." Or not.

Even as CIA risk analyst Vivian Hollins (Kathleen Robertson) describes her personal fixation on get Osama bin Laden -- it began on September 11, she explains, when her college roommate lost her father and brother in the South Tower, and it was "awful" -- she's describing as well the dramatic hurdle for SEAL Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden. That is, you know exactly how it ends.

Vivian, like everyone else in Harvey Weinstein's much-ballyhooed Obama-boosting entertainment "inspired by real events," does her best to make this foregone conclusion thrilling. She pursues her obsession as such, conjuring a series of plans out of the suspicion that Osama bin Laden is in Abbottabad, ruing the missed opportunity in Tora Bora ("We had him and we let him go"), believing her hunch that tall guy pacing in the compound is so worth following up. When her boss, Guidry (William Fichtner), early on asks for her proposal concerning the site, she's got one: "Bomb the fuck out of it, sir."

As resolute (and attractive!) as Vivian may be, she's got a lot of men to convince. Not only is Guidry skeptical of the lack of "real actionable intelligence," but so too is her colleague Christian (Eddie Kaye Thomas) and Leon Panetta, voice-acted on the phone so as to prod Vivian to ever greater effort. When at last she sneaks a local doctor inside the compound on the pretense of a "vaccination drive," Vivian is elated but also, she confesses after the fact, "All of a sudden the live feed is running and I realize I'm putting someone's life in danger!"

The live feed is key to John Stockwell's film, a device that allows him to include Pete Souza's famous photo of the Situation Room crowd watching the raid on 2 May 2011. Throughout, the film makes clear the technologies that provided live feeds -- the cameras set up in an apartment building near the compound, the repeated surveillance drive-bys performed by "two assets on the ground in Peshawar," and the satellites that didn't quite identify the Pacer but showed he was tall. Scritchy and blurred and accompanied by propulsive percussion, these images tilt and pitch and come with prominent time stamps. All this is to say they're real-ish, based on testimonies and scraps of intel, cobbled together to resemble a videogame.

Even while these live feeds might give you some sense of how it felt to watch from a distance, as the CIA and the White House did at the time, SEAL Team Six also includes some views on site, as well as made-up exit interviews with participants. These insist on your inability to grasp what you're seeing. As team member Cherry (Anson Mount) puts it, "If you ain't been out on a mission with us or ain't trained with us, you can't know how we are." Still, he and Stunner (Cam Gigandet) offer some assistance on this count, describing how they see their mission, their team, and their allegiance.

It happens that these versions of the team members are locked in a particular competition ("It killed Cherry that I was team leader," says Stunner, younger and more clean-cut). Cherry notes that his fellow all have wives and even children; he's just got his mom and a "few girls every now and then." Long-haired and roughhewn, Cherry self-identifies as a "hotheaded redneck" and calls his rival "a surfer boy," then picks a fight during a training run that their skipper (Robert Knepper) has to break up.

Such intra-team melodrama doesn't distract from the film's focus so much as it illustrates it: again and again, the boys declare their need for payback, whether for a comrade killed by a suicide bomber or, in the case of Mule (Xzibit), for the vision of the burning WTC, which he witnessed from his home in Brooklyn when he was a boy. As Mule describes the scene for Trench (Freddy Rodriguez), the film cuts to TV footage of the event, reminding the rest of us that even if we didn't see it from Brooklyn or even closer, the footage is forever.

And this is the film's point. As Vivian and the boys ponder risks and assert their objectives, we see bits and pieces of their motivation, the televised tragedy that lingers for everyone, the digital archive that will never be lost and might always be used for shifting ends. The harrowing TV-ness of 9/11 matches up with the new, slicker TV-ness of the raid on Osama bin Laden.

The grainy chaos of the video is the sign of its authenticity, even if that effect is easily mimicked and manufactured. The movie reminds you of the risk of the mission and the uncertainty that framed the president's "gutsy call." It creates tension even if it's familiar, it solicits visceral reactions. "There aren’t many times in life when you can realize that everything you’ve sacrificed for a goal has been worth it," says Vivian, removing her glasses to dab at her eyes. "Because that goal is so much bigger and so much more important than any individual." And now that it's a TV movie, everyone else can realize it too.






The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.