Couch Potato Briefing: Of Navy SEALs and Terrorist Masterminds

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Global Spin’s weekly menu of five rental movies to bring you up to speed with world events focuses on the only theme in this week’s headlines: The raid that killed Osama bin-Laden


Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia

White House squeamishness over releasing photographs of the bloodied corpse of Osama bin Laden calls to mind possibly the grittiest hunt-and-kill movie ever, Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. Photographs? Puhleeze: Peckinpah was quite happy to show his audience a brown paper bag covered in flies, ostensibly containing the severed head of a wanted fugitive, as an object of conversation on the front seat of a car. A bracing low-budget affair shot in Mexico, Peckinpah’s film portrays Warren Oates as Bennie, a piano player looking to make some easy money by collecting the bounty a wealthy Mexican gang boss has placed on Alfredo Garcia, who got his daughter pregnant, but whom Bennie knows is dead and buried. But nothing is that simple. As the voiceover in the trailer warns, “An army is scouring three continents looking for Alfredo Garcia… Someone has offered a million dollars for physical proof of Garcia’s death… innocent people will suffer… holy ground will be desecrated… 25 people will die…” Long before Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’ witty stylized versions of similar tales, Sam Peckinpah was making them without the quote marks.


Navy SEALs

The U.S. Navy’s Sea, Air and Land (SEAL) Team 6 has earned itself pride of place in the pantheon of Special Operations Forces by its daring raid on Osama bin-Laden’s compound in Abottabad this week. By its very nature, the workings of such units are highly secretive. But there have been occasional attempts to celebrate their exploits on screen, nowhere more vividly than in the 1990 Charlie Sheen vehicle Navy SEALs, in which a team of Seals is sent to rescue a Navy crew held hostage by terrorists, and then is forced to go on a complicated series of missions across the Middle East to track some stolen Stinger missiles lost in the original operation. It’s a wild ride in the shoot-em-up tradition. And of course Sheen’s Lt. Dale Hawkins is unlikely to be much concerned with photographs, either. As he puts it, “We go in, we hit ’em, and forget ’em.”


Where Eagles Dare

Behind-enemy-lines Special Operations came into their own during World War II, which has given us rich pickings in the realm of big-screen tales of ice-cool war by stealth. None finer, IMHO, that Where Eagles Dare, about a fictional raid by  British special forces, led by Richard Burton’s Maj. John Smith, joined by U.S. Army Ranger Morris Schaffer (Clint Eastwood), on a German castle where a leading U.S. general who knows the D-Day invasion plan is being held. The raid involves the commandoes allowing themselves to be captured, and then fighting their way out of captivity to rescue the captive general. But, well, there’s a twist – there’s an intel agenda driving the whole operation, but if you want to know what it is, you’ll have to watch it. With its pairing of Eastwood and Burton in their prime, great cinematography, brilliant action sequences and noir-ish interpersonal relations, there are worse ways to spend two hours.


A Mighty Heart 

A recurring theme in this week’s coverage of the bin-Laden raid is the suspicion of Pakistani duplicity: Nobody is sure what the Pakistani authorities knew and didn’t know about the fact that the world’s most wanted terrorist was hiding out in their back yard. And no movie better captures the sense that when it comes to violent extremism, nothing in Pakistan is quite as it seems, then A Mighty Heart. It’s the true story of Mariane Pearl (Angelina Jolie) trying to locate her kidnapped husband, Wall Street Journal reporter Danny Pearl, who was beheaded by his jihadist captors – some of whom may have had some previous ties with Pakistani intelligence. Mariane’s frustration, and the sense that she’s being actively misled, may be just how a lot of Americans are feeling about Pakistan this week. And the movie is a great tribute also to the spirit of Danny Pearl, whose pursuit of the truth turned him into yet another heroic casualty of 9/11.



Osama bin-Laden may have been the iconic face of global terrorism in the first decade of this century, but a generation earlier, that title would have belonged to Illich Ramirez Sanchez, better known by his nomme d’guerre, ‘Carlos the Jackal’. Olivier Assayas 5-hour biopic (originally created as a TV series) is a tour-de-force exploration of the strange world of 1970s leftist terrorism, in which graduates of German art schools found themselves training at Palestinian camps in Lebanon and Yemen, to fight a war in the name of the workers of the world whose missions, as often as not, were driven by the self-serving agendas of patrons like Saddam Hussein. The lynchpin of this world of deluded violence was Carlos, the charismatic Venezuelan playboy who signed up with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in 1970, and through a series of audacious terror attacks in Europe over two decades made himself the world’s most wanted terrorist – until he was rolled up by the French in Somalia in 1994. His era and milieu are archly rendered by Assayas, whose film offers rare insight itno the nihilistic vanity of men like bin-Laden.