Generally speaking, art imitates life (sorry Mr Wilde) and the cinema is no different. The major events of the day are played out before us on the big screen; flickering images of life, death and war helping to deconstruct the stories, splitting up the big messy world into manageable two hour narratives. It is no surprise, then, that the tragic, dramatic events of 11th September 2001 and all of its myriad consequences have been replayed and reflected in various filmic forms: from United 93 to Remember Me; The Hurt Locker to Green Zone.
On 2nd May 2011, almost ten years after the World Trade Centre attacks, it seemed like we finally received a conclusion to this particular story. In a remote Pakistani compound, CIA operatives captured and killed public enemy #1 Osama Bin Laden. The USA breathed a sigh of relief and film-makers around the globe began scripting the cinematic final showdown. In 2012, two films were released which depicted the hunt for Bin Laden: Zero Dark Thirty and Codename: Geronimo.
Zero Dark Thirty, directed by the woman behind The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow, has gone on to receive wide critical acclaim and nominations from the Writers Guild of America (WGA). Codename: Geronimo, directed by the man behind Blue Crush, John Stockwell, has not.
With such a notorious villain at the plot’s centre, Codename: Geronimo fails in part because it fails to provide an opposing hero. Bin Laden is never fully shown, simply a blurry figure stealing across satellite images; equally, no true protagonist reveals themselves. We follow by turns the escapades of a group of Navy SEALs (headed up by ‘Stunner’ – played by the love interest from Burlesque. Enough said), the CIA operatives calling the shots, and two Pakistani agents, and end up caring about none of them.
The actors give it their best shot, but they have to contend with a script that is often clumsy and heavy-handed. At one point two members of the SEAL team share memories of 9/11 and their deployment to war, but it feels cringe-worthy rather than meaningful. CIA analyst Vivian (Kathleen Robertson) is struggling to find her place in a male-dominated world: a relevant and widely-accepted narrative which could have been portrayed with subtle expressions and dialogue, as opposed to her accidentally walking into the male bathroom only to be told by her boss “this is the men’s room”. I think I actually groaned.
To give credit where credit is due, Codename: Geronimo has decent production values – I couldn’t find fault with the cinematography, lighting, or sound, and the frequent use of images from satellites, night vision goggles and so on gives an interesting twist. Sadly, this isn’t enough to save the film from the perils of bad writing, and we end up with something that feels more like a made-for-TV docudrama than any kind of cinematic masterpiece.
In short: save your pennies and your time, and watch Zero Dark Thirty instead.
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