National Geographic Channel seldom finds itself thrust into the national conversation, much less accused of trying to sway a presidential election. And once people see “Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama Bin Laden” — the quickie movie at the center of the controversy — many will no doubt wonder what the fuss was all about. Essentially an extended episode of “24” augmented by actual news video and photos, this slapdash effort about the operation to get the terrorist mastermind seems unlikely to win hearts and minds, and despite decent moments as it vamps killing time, barely manages to keep eyes open.
The film became a political football thanks to the decision to air it prior to the election, and the role of producer/Obama supporter Harvey Weinstein. The combination has caused some conservatives to object, and NatGeo to defensively insist this isn’t just thinly veiled propaganda for the current administration.
Stripped of that context, “Seal Team Six” primarily feels like the get-there-first answer to the upcoming Kathryn Bigelow feature “Zero Dark Thirty,” which was put into development before Bin Laden’s death and thus handed a genuine ending.
Directed by John Stockwell from a script by Kendall Lampkin, the telepic employs various devices a charitable sort would say are designed to create an aura of authenticity, including direct-to-camera interviews with characters, news-program style, and interview snippets featuring President Obama, as well as photos of him looking intense and determined.
A cynic, though, will actually see most of that as a means of covering up the modest budget, and stringing along a thriller where everyone knows the outcome, if not the details.
As constructed, the story focuses on members of the Seal Team, known only by “The Outsiders”-like nicknames, such as Stunner and Cherry, as well as the CIA analysts whose intel made the operation possible. Fine actors like William Fichtner, Robert Knepper and Anson Mount lend some credibility, but almost all of it is paper-thin, relying on Paul Haslinger’s pulsating score to maintain and heighten a sense of tension.
A few strong scenes emerge, perhaps foremost when the Seals engage in video chats with folks back home prior to their mission. Still, each time they flash a graphic like “55 Days Till the Raid,” it merely reminds us the movie feels like a pretty long sit.
A narrower focus on one aspect of the raid — and either having actors play the President’s cabinet or keeping them offscreen entirely — might have helped the material resonate. Instead, even with the patriotic fervor surrounding these events, the movie’s scatter-gun approach deadens the whole exercise.
At one point, Fichtner’s character, a CIA agent, is pressed for concrete info pinpointing Bin Laden’s presence inside the compound.
“A hundred percent’s hard to come by these days,” he says tartly.
Fair enough, but even grading on a curve, giving “Seal Team Six” a passing grade requires a rose tint on one’s night-vision goggles.