Director defends bin Laden film release before election

Jason Fraley, WTOP film critic

WASHINGTON – First, there were conspiracy theories that “The Dark Knight Rises” named its villain Bane to slam Mitt Romney’s former company Bain Capital. Then, there was the release of the right-wing documentary “2016: Obama’s America.” And who can forget Clint Eastwood yelling at a chair at the Republican National Convention?

Hollywood keeps brushing elbows with the 2012 Election.

Perhaps the two most significant efforts haven’t yet been released, a pair of films about the SEAL Team Six raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

“Zero Dark Thirty,” directed by Kathryn Bigelow, Oscar-winning director of “The Hurt Locker” (2009), hits theaters on December 19th, avoiding criticism of being released before the election.

However, there’s a made-for-TV movie that will air in primetime just two nights before Election Day. “SEAL Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden” airs at 8 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 4, on National Geographic Channel. The next day, on the eve of the election, it will become available on Netflix. And before any of that, the Newseum will host a special red-carpet screening on Monday, Oct. 29.

The New York Times reports the film has been recut with news and documentary footage to boost President Obama’s role in the mission, and the trailer depicts a Pentagon staffer saying, “The President of the United States is going to be staking his presidency on this call.” Conservatives are already complaining that the film’s producer, Harvey Weinstein (“The Artist,” “The King’s Speech”), is a longtime Democratic contributor and a backer of the Obama campaign.

I had a chance to chat with director John Stockwell (“Blue Crush,” “Crazy/Beautiful”), who insists the timing of his film isn’t political.

“We finished earlier (than ‘Zero Dark Thirty’), and the timing made sense for us,” Stockwell said. “I don’t think Harvey Weinstein cares as much about swaying the election as getting as many viewers as possible and getting the movie talked about, and this was an effective way of doing that. I think the same is true for Nat Geo, which is partially owned by Fox Broadcasting Company, and they’re not the most liberal organization in the world.”

The controversy was not merely political, but also about whether it would reveal military secrets.

“We certainly didn’t have any cooperation from the Department of Defense or the White House,” Stockwell said. “The DOD wanted to read the script, and I would have liked their cooperation more than the White House, because we would have had access to the kind of military technology that ‘Act of Valor’ had, but they would have wanted a really sanitized, one-note depiction. … I think the White House is very concerned about distancing themselves from both projects.”

What does Stockwell think of people who try to politicize the film’s release?

“I say bring it on,” he said. “I’m not afraid of it. I’m a very political person myself. I think it’s a very compelling movie. I think it takes on Obama. It’s not a puff piece about him. Now (the raid) looks like a good decision, but there were many people in the intelligence community and defense department who thought it was a stupid decision, and if it had gone south, there was little chance of him being reelected. The downside to him green-lighting the raid is much better than the upside.”

If Stockwell’s name sounds familiar, you might recognize him as Cougar in “Top Gun” (1986) or Dennis in John Carpenter’s adaptation of Stephen King’s killer car “Christine” (1983).

“SEAL Team Six” stars Kathleen Robertson (“90210″), Robert Knepper (“Prison Break”), William Fichtner (“Armageddon”) and rapper Xzibit (“Pimp My Ride”).

Read more from WTOP Film Critic Jason Fraley by clicking “Fraley on Film” under the “Living” tab above, following @JasonFraleyWTOP on Twitter, and checking out his blog, The Film Spectrum.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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