Manhunt, Sky Atlantic - TV review


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The Independent Culture

Are you a Homeland fan? If so, firstly, my condolences, and secondly I hope you caught HBO documentary Manhunt, which had its UK TV premiere on Sky Atlantic last night. Many of the elements would have been familiar: female CIA agents chastised for their "over-emotional" attitude to work, a post 9/11 culture of blame and some unconvincing attempts to justify the use of torture. But Manhunt, unlike Homeland, was also a compelling watch in which any plot holes were the legitimate result of state secrecy.

The film included rarely seen clips from al-Qa'ida propaganda, footage from a 1997 interview with a mild-mannered Bin Laden and interviews with the analysts who first perceived a threat, as far back as 1995. This is the value of watching a documentary instead of the 2012 Hollywood drama Zero Dark Thirty, which covers similar ground, or even reading the original Peter Bergen book on which Manhunt is based. Words alone can't communicate what it must have felt like to hear news of Bin Laden's capture after 16 years of labour dedicated to that single goal. Only the look on the CIA analyst Barbara Sude's face can tell us that.

If it initially seemed odd that such a supposedly clandestine agency would open up to cameras, their reasoning soon became clear: this was also a way for the CIA to defend itself against criticism. As analyst Cindy Storer said: "People say, 'Why don't you connect the dots?' Well, because the whole page is black!"