Jason Fraley, WTOP film critic
WASHINGTON – Superstorm Sandy canceled Monday’s movie premiere of a new military thriller at the Newseum, creating all sorts of headaches for the filmmakers.
Rapper/actor Xzibit had his flight from L.A. canceled.
Screenwriter Kendall Lampkin was stuck for days in our nation’s capital.
And producer Harvey Weinstein was forced to host an impromptu hotel screening for Washington VIPs, including former Senator Chris Dodd, now chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America.
Finally, after all the waiting, the Newseum rolled out the red carpet Thursday night to host the premiere of “Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama Bin Laden.”
“It’s absolutely surreal,” Lampkin said. “This is my first produced credit, the type of thing you dream about all the time. Standing on a carpet that’s red, with a big thing behind you that has the title of the film you wrote, I’m in awe. I’m just as much a spectator as I am a participant.”
Lampkin’s script details the Navy SEALS who killed Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan in May 2011. It airs at 8 p.m. Sunday on National Geographic Channel and becomes available on Netflix the next day — the eve of the election.
The timing has created a stir about whether it’s trying to sway the outcome of the election, including a The New York Times report that the film was recut with news footage to boost President Obama’s role in the mission.
Dodd disputed these claims Thursday on the red carpet.
“We all remember where we were that day, we all remember the president spoke that night, so we’re not telling you something you don’t know,” Dodd said. “Don’t insult the intelligence of the American voter that those who watch are going to automatically change their mind. That’s classic Washington — always assuming everybody sees everything through a political lens.”
Still, director John Stockwell (“Blue Crush,” “Crazy/Beautiful”) felt the need to address the “controversy” to the Newseum audience, pointing out that Weinstein, a longtime Democratic contributor and backer of the Obama campaign, did in fact ask him to make some changes, but that Lampkin is a registered Republican who voted for George W. Bush twice. I spoke with him last week about the hubbub, and he said, “Bring it on.”
“Obviously the president had a role in this raid,” said actor Kenneth Miller, who plays the SEAL nicknamed “Sauce.” “The script was definitely more focused on the soldiers, but in order to make it for Nat Geo, it needed to be based in realism, and that’s exactly what Harvey Weinstein did. When he brought in all this news footage, it really grounded it in what was happening, put it all in perspective, and made it really round out the film.”
Having now seen the film, I can report it does include plenty of footage and soundbytes from the president. It opens with the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner, just after the president green-lit the raid. President Obama says, “What a week,” which audiences at the time thought referred to the “birther” controversy, while the film implies it was because of the impending raid. “SNL” star Seth Meyers even cracks a joke about Bin Laden’s isolation. Conservative critics may not appreciate the cutaways to Donald Trump and Bill O’Reilly during this exchange, but it’s otherwise an effective opening at showing what goes on behind the scenes, unbeknownst to the public, and even the media yucking it up at this annual dinner.
Overall, the film mostly focuses on the SEALS, as it should, having them speak directly to the camera in fictional interviews and re-enacting Skype chats with their families. Between the shadow-filled training sequences and guess work of the actual raid (new accounts continue to be published after the film was shot), the archival footage seems necessary to give the film a weight it would otherwise lack. Afterwards, I imagined the film without the footage, and it would not have been nearly as effective.
I can’t wait to compare it to “Zero Dark Thirty,” which hits theaters December 19th and is directed by Kathryn Bigelow, Oscar-winning director of “The Hurt Locker” (2009).
“I heard about ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ while I was working on ‘Seal Team Six,'” Lampkin said. “I think there’s a lot of value in being the first film, so I think it definitely lit a fire under us to be first.”
Check it out Sunday night and see what you think. Timing aside, politics aside, Bigelow aside, watch it and celebrate the brave men and women who carried out this seemingly impossible mission. As a SEAL says at the end of the film, much was made about whether Bin Laden was actually there and whether the mission would actually work, but the bottom line is: “He was. And we did.”
(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)