Navy SEALS and Harvey Weinstein have at least one thing in common: Great timing.
If it weren’t airing two nights before Election Day, National Geographic Channel’s passable, Weinstein-produced “SEAL Team Six: The Raid on Osama Bin Laden” would have come and gone with remarkable stealth.
Arriving two months before Kathryn Bigelow’s similarly themed big-screen “Zero Dark Thirty,” “SEAL” recounts the hunting and killing of the 9/11 mastermind.
Trailing better-told published accounts, “SEAL” snared publicity for its scheduling and the financial backing of producer, hype-master and Barack Obama supporter Weinstein.
A hodgepodge of historical re-enactment, faux-documentary noodling and snippets of Obama news footage, “SEAL” unashamedly accentuates the President’s leadership.
It feels as fresh as a two-year-old press conference.
Director John Stockwell (“Blue Crush”), with an uninspired script by Kendall Lampkin, relies on generic action music, ticking clock flourishes and recruitment-ad pathos to pump up emotion.
To move things along, characters, including Kathleen Robertson (so good on “Boss”) as a CIA official intent on settling America’s 9/11 score, occasionally speak directly to an off-camera interviewer.
“Being obsessed is like having a one-way affair,” she confides about her Bin Laden mission, sounding like a cut-rate Claire Danes. “It’s secret and you can’t stop thinking about him and you’re always alone, and you don’t know how it will end.”
The SEALs fare no better. The two main commandoes (Anson Mount and Cam Gigandet) bicker over some personal rivalry, a half-baked storyline that’s abandoned long before they reach Abbottabad.
Photographer Eros Hoagland, standing among a small crowd of onlookers, has just watched a wounded man die a slow, bloody death on a dusty Mexican street.
“I wasn’t there to mourn for him,” says Hoagland, one of four war photographers profiled in HBO’s fine new documentary miniseries “Witness.” “I wasn’t there to console his family. I was there to document.”
Any notion of war photographers as thrill-seeking adrenaline junkies is undone by “Witness,” produced by Michael Mann and David Frankham.
Forget Oliver Stone’s high-octane “Salvador” (a film partly inspired by Hoagland’s father John Hoagland, a photographer gunned down in El Salvador in 1984). The journalists profiled in “Witness” seem to carry the world’s weight inside their camera bags.
The first and fourth episodes follow Hoagland to, respectively, Juarez and Rio de Janeiro, where he documents the drug wars. In Rio he also covers the state’s efforts to clear (and, Hoagland argues, socially cleanse) the city before the 2016 Olympic Games.
The second episode, “Witness: Libya,” profiles Michael Christopher Brown, a photographer wounded in the same mortar attack that killed photographers Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros in April, 2011.
But no episode is more unsettling than “Witness: South Sudan,” the third installment, chronicling French photographer Veronique de Viguerie’s expedition into the Sudanese bush with a rag-tag militia fighting warlord Joseph Kony’s ruthless Lord’s Resistance Army.
The LRA’s use of child soldiers -- and “Witness” doesn’t shy from grisly images -- seems to touch something in de Viguerie, who is visibly pregnant during her assignment. At one point she intercedes to comfort a wounded boy.
“As a journalist you should not do it,” she says. “As a human being, what would you do?”
“Witness” airs Mondays in November on HBO at 9 p.m. New York time. Rating: ****
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(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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