I can remember exactly where I was when I heard on September 11th, 2001. I was driving home from the doctors listening to the radio when I learnt of the co-ordinated attacks in which 19 terrorists hijacked 4 airliners over American soil and flew them into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. I can remember coming home and switching on the television and sitting open-mouthed as I watched the footage over and over again on television before trying again and again to call friends in New York with no success. These attacks are a defining moment in the lives of many people of my generation – a “where were you when Lennon was shot/Elvis died/JFK was assassinated/the first or second world war ended?” moment. It is understandable, therefore, that artists choose to make films and theatre to explore their own understanding of these events. What’s less understandable is why anyone would choose to make an espionage action thriller about the assassination of Bin-Laden, the terrorist leader who ran the organisation most believe to be responsible for the attacks.
The issues are too complex. The repercussions are still being felt. The ‘War on Terror’ instigated by these events shows no sign of ending soon and the attempt to paint the death of Bin-Laden, no matter how despicable we believe him to be, as some kind of conclusion seems misguided. But then it’s not really a film for me and people like me. It’s a film for Americans. Not all Americans. The kind of Americans who are shown in news footage at the end waving placards that boldly state ‘Osama Bin Gotten’ after the news broke in America. I imagine this could well become a cult movie with showings every year on May 2nd in cinemas filled with hooting jocks pumping foam fingers in the air as we near the climactic money-shot and the Seals shoot Bin Laden’s load out the back of his head and all over the walls of his grotty compound. “ I’m not interested in punishment or revenge”, claims the leader of the assault squad. This film wouldn’t have been made if every American felt that way.
Codename: Geronimo is a tricky film to review; the events still loom too large. As an action thriller it is a workmanlike TV movie. The US Soldiers are all Abercrombie & Fitch-model handsome and have tortured personal lives which they must overcome to pop a cap in some terrorists. Sleek young Pakistani men communicate with beautiful CIA operatives using implausible face-recognition software to identify terrorists whose pockets gape conveniently to receive high-tech tracking devices. Soldiers in Helmand deliver off-topic attempts at Tarantinoesque dialogue, chatting about the best way to serve Rice Krispies while leading hooded captives through a wadi. All of the soldiers have horny supermodels for girlfriends who love nothing more than providing the occasional completely gratuitious full-frontal nudity just in case you’re getting a bit bored of the expert jiu-jitsu that these guys rock out when they have a disagreement with each other. The action is slightly plodding, the tension is non-existent as we all know the outcome, and nothing is revealed that tells us anything we really want to know. Obviously, the identities of the real soldiers cannot be revealed and these guys seem a little too much like staples of the genre for me to believe that only names have been changed, and not appearance, history, and behaviour too.
The other big difficulty is that action movies exist in isolation from the real world. Goodies are completely good despite their problems. Baddies are either faceless goon henchmen or pure evil boss figures (normally replete with a ludicrous accent and a silly hair-do). The first are here in abundance. Whilst the lives of the American soldiers are visited in scant, but effective, detail, the foreigners are as faceless & motiveless as the paper targets that are so effectively shredded in training – and all end up just as full of bullets. Don’t fear though. No Americans were harmed in the making of this production. A lot of stress is also placed on the nobility of the forces behind the assault, in ensuring that no women or children were to be harmed. No mention is made of any civilian casualties including, presumably, women and children both that have occurred as a direct consequence of the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps there weren’t any?
It’s just too big an ask to expect us all to forget the world we live in and enjoy a rollicking, boys-own tale of bold exponents of truth, justice and the American way storming into a hostile, foreign country and claiming the head of the bogey-man. Even made with the competence of the Greengrass ‘Bourne’ movies or the bookend Daniel Craig ‘Bonds’ it would be a hard pill to swallow. As it is, this low-grade B-movie left a fairly nasty taste in my mouth.