Sundance 2013 Review: ‘Manhunt’ Shows The Real Search for Osama Bin Laden

By  · Published on January 23rd, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty may have focused the forty minute raid which successfully captured and killed Osama bin Laden, but Greg Barker’s Manhunt takes you a few decades back when a small group of female C.I.A. analysts (nicknamed “The Sisterhood”) came together and uncovered the, now known, worldwide terrorist group, al-Qaeda. Where Zero Dark Thirty is a fictionalized look at these events, Manhunt features the real life C.I.A. analysts, operatives, and targeters who first discovered the group, and diligently worked to end their reign of terror.

Others at the C.I.A. thought those in The Sisterhood were simply obsessed with bin Laden, and had no real reason to be tracking him because back then, bin Laden lived out in the open, claiming he had no ties to terrorism. But The Sisterhood kept discovering he was the thread that tied these various terrorist groups together. The question then became: was bin Laden simply contributing funds to these groups, or was he the founder of the movement?

In 1997, CNN’s Peter Bergen actually did a sit down interview with bin Laden (in which bin Laden stated he planned on attacking the United States), but it got a muted reaction because, despite his threats, bin Laden had not yet done anything. But The Sisterhood never stopped sending up warnings that a serious attack was coming, but those warnings continuously fell on deaf ears. While smaller incidents happened at U.S. Embassy’s abroad, no one thought an attack would really happen on American soil. But then the first plane hit the Twin Towers and it was then people finally sat up and took notice.

After 9/11, the goal was no longer to gather intelligence on bin Laden, it was to shut down al-Qaeda with the focus on capturing high level assets and bringing them back to the United States for questioning. Approved to use “enhanced interrogation techniques” in these interrogations, interviews were conducted with agents on both sides of the coin, showing how even those on the “inside” have varying opinions about it’s practices. While the end goal was reached, it was never just another day at work for these agents, it was also an emotional journey they dedicated their lives to which Manhunt brings to light, helping to add a human aspect to this story.

Manhunt not only tackles an interesting subject, it does so through the actual people who discovered and then worked to bring this decade long manhunt to an end. The passion, commitment, and determination seen through their interviews makes it clear that this was not conducted by faceless people, it was done by people who truly care about their jobs, and the safety of the world we are all living in. Manhunt explores all sides of this complex story and allows you, the viewer, to form your own opinion based on that information.

The Upside: A well researched doc that does not attempt to sway, merely inform; full of never-before-seen footage and interviews that help give those outside of the C.I.A. insight into these events; interesting to see the juxtaposition between real life analysts and on-the-ground operatives.

The Downside: A slightly shorter edit would have helped keep things moving along at a more engaging pace.

On the Side: The Muslim jihad faith requires its followers to warn their enemies before launching an attack against them, and they did so through violent and explicit propaganda, making the 9/11 attacks all the more painful and frustrating to those in The Sisterhood as it proved those warnings were true.