All the cards are in place for Hollywood producer and Democratic Party booster Harvey Weinstein to deliver a cinematic October surprise for President Obama's re-election campaign.
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It seems the reluctance of Sony Pictures to release Zero Dark Thirty, Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow's film tracking the Osama bin Laden assassination ahead of the November election is not shared by Weinstein. While Zero Dark Thirty, based on Dalton Fury's book Kill Bin Laden has been pushed to December 19, the Los Angeles Times reports the Weinstein Co. founder has "basically closed the rights deal" for another killing bin Laden film called Code Name Geronimo and has indicated that it will be released in late September or October. It's understandable that Weinstein would want to get his movie in theaters before Bigelow's. (If there are two movies about the exact same event, you better release yours first), but the release schedule may also give the film producer, who likes dabbling in politics, a chance to influence the presidential election.
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Not much is known about Geronimo yet. Footage from the film was shown for the first time to potential buyers in Cannes on Wednesday. The movie is directed by John Stockwell, a veteran actor (you may remember him as "Cougar" in Top Gun) who has gone on to direct a number of action films, including Blue Crush. (As for his political leanings, the only contribution on record with the FEC is Stockwell's $250 gift to Obama during the 2008 primary.) According to a press release put out by the New Mexico Film Office (where the movie was shot), Geronimo "tells the story of the manhunt for Osama bin Laden and serves as the riveting backdrop for a gripping story about the combined efforts of an extraordinary group of Navy Seals. This is the story of a clandestine operation, a perfect storm of people, and the rare synergy of circumstances that would amount to the most daring military operation of our generation, inspired by the true story of how it almost fell apart."
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It sounds a lot like Zero Dark Thirty, the Sony picture by Bigelow which also dramatizes the raid on Abbottobad. Her film became controversial last August following a column by The New York Times' Maureen Dowd who said the film would bolster Obama's re-election prospects. "The Sony film ... will no doubt reflect the president’s cool, gutsy decision against shaky odds," she wrote. According to Bigelow, the film covers the lead up and execution of the raid on bin Laden's compound last May. Dowd noted the filmmakers gained exclusive access to the Obama administration for details on the raid, and added, "Just as Obamaland was hoping, the movie is scheduled to open on Oct. 12, 2012 — perfectly timed to give a home-stretch boost to a campaign that has grown tougher." After groans from the GOP that the film would amount to Hollywood-financed propaganda film, Sony pushed the release date back to December.
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Enter Weinstein into the bidding for Geronimo, which according to Deadline is in its final stages. Made for a more modest budget than Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty, the asking price is reportedly around $2 million. Who knows at this point which is the better film, but highlighting Obama's signature foreign policy achievement certainly dovetails with the Obama re-election campaign's efforts so far. Ever since Obama's reelection efforts swung into gear, his campaign has gone to great lengths to highlight the successful Abbottabad mission. All that boosting, however, has prompted criticisms from conservatives that the president is politicizing the raid by "spiking the football." Some Navy SEAL veterans are attacking him for the same reason, taking out ads like this one, that instruct voters to "TELL PRESIDENT OBAMA: OUR SERVICEMEMBERS SACRIFICE TO PROTECT OUR COUNTRY, NOT TO BENEFIT HIS POLITICAL CAMPAIGN." With Hollywood producing the film about the mission's heroics, it distances Obama from claims of spiking the football while benefitting him at the same time.
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Will Weinstein go ahead and do it? If he does, it wouldn't be the first time he's given Obama a helping hand. At a fundraising event in March that hauled more than $8 million for Obama, Weinstein, who raised more than $500,000 for the president's re-election, was not at a loss for words. "I'm so thrilled he's running for re-election," he said. "He's done a fantastic job, and he's the most underestimated president I've seen. He's too humble, and his accomplishments far outweigh his esteem, but people will learn that in time."
Of course, while money can influence elections, so can films. And the release of Geronimo wouldn't be the first time a Weinstein film was unveiled with the intention to influencing American voters. Weinstein famously unveiled Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 ahead of the 2004 Bush-Kerry election and, at the time, Moore was openly claiming that his film " is the atomic bomb of this campaign."
In the case of Geronimo, it's possible that releasing it could prompt Sony to move up the date of Zero Dark Thirty causing a pre-election Osama bin Laden extravaganza. As of now, Sony says it has no plans of changing the release date of its film but you've got to think the temptation is there.