Osama bin Laden’s demise may have triggered ebullient flash mobs across America, but in Hollywood—where several feature films about the al Qaeda leader have been plodding along for years—the news elicited a wholly different response: calls of “Rewrite!”
In death, bin Laden seems to have delivered moviedom a parting gift. Screenwriter Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow, who nabbed Oscars for 2008’s Iraq War thriller The Hurt Locker, had already been working on a film about the frustrated military strike team that had been stalking bin Laden across Pakistan and Afghanistan with no kill shot for their efforts. Now the moviemakers are scrambling to come up with a new ending, depicting that team’s firefight inside the Abbottabad compound. The movie, still untitled, “is going ahead on schedule,” with production slated to begin this summer, Boal told Newsweek.
Hollywood studios and documentary makers have been circling bin Laden for years, with mixed results. In 2006 Paramount Pictures acquired the rights to Jawbreaker, a tell-all by CIA point man Gary Berntsen detailing a 2001 military mission to terminate the al Qaeda leader. Oliver Stone was to have directed it, but the project lost steam. Last year the BBC’s Conspiracy Files: Osama bin Laden, Dead or Alive? made claims that Tora Bora’s most famous resident probably died in a cave in the early ’00s. Oops. Meantime, George Clooney has optioned the courtroom drama The Challenge, about the efforts of a Navy lawyer and a Georgetown University law professor to ensure a fair trial for bin Laden’s driver-bodyguard Salim Hamdan, held at Guantánamo Bay for five years; Aaron Sorkin is writing the screenplay.
So far, it seems bin Laden’s biggest success onscreen has been as a punchline. In the downmarket 2007 comedy Postal, Larry Thomas (a.k.a. Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi) portrayed the terrorist leader as a dropout hellbent on infecting children’s toys with bird flu in a desperate attempt to top 9/11. But the mother of all satires was created by (who else?) the South Park guys in the weeks after the Twin Towers fell. Titled “Osama bin Laden Has Farty Pants,” the episode featured him as a jibberish-spewing hothead with microscopic genitals who falls for a camel. Crude stuff, but it captured America’s anger during those awful days in the fall of 2001. And it made clear that the terrorists hadn’t won.
Chris Lee is a senior entertainment writer for Newsweek/The Daily Beast. He previously worked as an entertainment and culture reporter for the Los Angeles Times. His work has also appeared in Vibe, Premiere and Details magazines and has been plagiarized in The Sunday Tribune of Ireland and The Trinidad Guardian.