Allegedly, Al-Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden was a fan of The Wonder Years, the brilliant (though undeniably schmaltzy) US coming of age comedy-drama set in 1960s suburbia. He was also quite taken by Whitney Houston, and addicted to the refreshingly bubbly taste of Pepsi, a drink that its makers boldly insist “refreshes the world”. Itâs a slogan that the fatwa issuing hypocrite stubbornly refused to take on board during his sorry lifetime.
Heâs a figure that, despite his widespread notoriety, remains largely a mystery to us, although ITVâs The Hunt for Bin Laden attempts to gives us a definitive summary of what we do know. The comprehensive two hour documentary details his rise to becoming the worldâs most wanted man, up to his inevitably gruesome end. The narration is sober, surprisingly understated and contrasts well with the American interviewees, who tend to become extremely excitable at the drop of a hat.
Itâs still, however, a pleasant departure from the kind of documentaries that weâve come to expect from ITV, especially those featuring the bombastic narration of channel veteran Alistair Stewart, a man less self-aware than Alan Partridge. The talking heads (made up of various military leaders, CIA chiefs, FBI agents and White House insiders) offer some unique insights, even though several of them exhibit more excitement than Nicolas Cage in The Wicker Man.
âIâm callinâ a fuckinâ FBI agent on the field, you fuckinâ asshole!â? bellows one insanely animated interviewee. âWhat, you wanna shove the rules up my ass!?â?
Admittedly, it makes for interesting TV, and the documentary rarely flags. Thereâs a lot to cover and ITV have done an excellent job of illustrating the narration with relevant footage, some of it filmed by Al-Qaeda themselves. One of my personal highlights of the programme is watching George Bush downplay Bin Ladenâs importance. Having spent several years following 9/11 littering his face-meltingly inarticulate speeches with references to Americaâs most wanted man, Bush eventually reached a point where he stopped mentioning Osama altogether.
âI donât know where he is,â? heâs heard saying, like a confused child struggling to find Wally. âI just donât spend that much time on him, to be honest with you.â?
Itâs disturbing to hear the president of the United States refer to a man who is responsible for the deaths of so many innocent people as if he were a boring homework assignment. And perhaps due to Bushâs astonishing stupidity, Bin Laden was able to survive the presidentâs grandiose and hilariously titled âwar on terrorâ?. It would ultimately be Bushâs successor, Barack Obama, who would be responsible for Osamaâs death, a man whose worryingly similar surname caused much concern amongst US voters back in the 2008 presidential elections. (Fred Westâ¦George Best. Colonel Gaddafiâ¦Dean Gaffney. The evidence surely spoke for itself?)
The documentary finishes on an expectably dark note; those interviewed are understandably frustrated at how long it took to bring Osama to justice. Overall, The Hunt for Bin Laden is a surprisingly well-executed effort to explain Americaâs 20-year cat and mouse game with the worldâs most notorious terrorist. Itâs one that spanned three presidential terms, defined presidencies and sparked wars, and here ITV have managed to create a truly compelling programme on the subjectâboth comprehensive and revealing.