Saturday, January 19, 2013

Code Name: Geronimo / Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama Bin Laden

Final Briefing

The killing of Osama Bin Laden after a decade long manhunt, surprised most people since it came quite out of the blue, and known only after the fact, in a military operation shrouded in secrecy that involved boots on ground, and a downed Black Hawk helicopter. And it's not without its own controversy as well, for what would be tantamount to an invasion of a supposed ally, the lack of photographic and videographic evidence to the mass public, and a quick burial at sea. So with the lack of facts, filmmakers now have the liberty to paint their own "What If"s, and come up with versions of a narrative of what could have been.

While waiting for Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty to hit the screens here, I suppose one could opt for this alternative film by John Stockwell, meant for television, for that quick synopsis on what to expect, and setting the baseline as well since its narrative encompassed the end to end series of events from years of surveillance and casing on the grounds in Pakistan, to the board room politicking amongst agencies and analysts, to the final execution of the operation that will appeal to action buffs. Not having an obscene budget meant creative use of resources to pass off the real things, from office rooms to real army equipment, but these were functional enough to allow the story to continue.

Code Name: Geronimo can be split into three different narrative threads, with the first set in Pakistan involving two CIA backed Pakistani operatives who are tasked to case a highly fortified abode, performing surveillance from across the street and reporting it back to Langley. Strict protocols are to be adhered to, and this arc is one of the highlights since it dealt with trust issues, corruption, and what I felt was the most delicate discussion on the fallout and aftermath once it's mission accomplished. The solemn discussion shared by the Pakistani agents with a doctor they had recruited, plays on this fear, and the importance of those who decide to stand up and be counted especially when knowing what lies beyond the horizon.

The other narrative thread deals with the politics behind the analysis provided, board room maneuvering, and the moments of deliberation over credibility of intel received. I am guessing that Zero Dark Thiry would have more of this, but despite its relative simpleness in design and delivery, it doesn't try to overload you with too much jargon, but allowing you to appreciate the mammoth tasks behind seemingly open and shut decisions. There's also a Jessica Chastain character equivalent here in Vivian (Kathleen Robertson), playing the analyst who has to convince her skeptics that their high value target is indeed who he is.

And lastly, the attempt to paint a picture behind those faceless grunts in Seal Team Six who executed the entire operation on the ground, putting life on the line as they force their way into a fortified compound. We get to see plenty of training in mock ups, and how the filmmakers try to provide some needless characterization and drama amongst these men, even that of infidelity thrown in for good measure to provide some adversary from within, and having its commander carry some emotional baggage stemming from 9/11. But for all intents, all these become meaningless, once they don their gear and form the highlight of that ground assault. Nobody knows exactly who these soldiers were, from since then we've got books written about their exploits, and now some films being made as well.

Everything's pretty basic for this modestly budgeted film meant for television, but it is no less gripping than any polished blockbuster, especially in its build up toward its inevitable crescendo. Everyone knows the outcome, but what was of value was the epilogue, which accounted for what had happened to those who had decided to help "the enemy" on home soil. Whether true or otherwise, what's compelling is the filmmakers decision to paint a somewhat negative picture on how those who were no longer useful, or have been milked dry, got discarded to a corner, whether to sink or swim was no longer anyone's business or interest. Zero Dark Thirty can't come soon enough.

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