“THE LOOMING TOWER” ON HULU
Inspired by the actual events of Lawrence Wright’s Pulitzer Prize-winning nonfiction book “The Looming Tower,” Hulu delivers a compelling ten-episode titular limited series about the rising threat of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda in the late 1990s.
Every episode has a disclaimer wherein “The Looming Tower” notes that certain characters and incidents, among other things, were fictionalized or composited for dramatic purposes. Nevertheless, the end product is riveting.
During the winter TV press tour, executive producer Alex Gibney acknowledged that creating a compelling drama requires some license but the success and failure of the federal agencies involved are “pretty accurately presented in the main.”
For those who followed the events after 9/11, it became all too obvious that intelligence agencies failed to properly coordinate their efforts to track the terrorists who planned to attack America.
Though the action starts at a time when distractions took place during President Clinton’s unfolding Monica Lewinsky scandal, there are jumps to the 9/11 inquiry in 2004, underscoring the concerns about lapses in the ability to prevent the jetliner hijackings.
The head of the FBI’S New York counter-terrorism unit, John O’Neill (Jeff Daniels), often belligerent even with superiors, was a central figure in the hunt for bin Laden, particularly in connection with the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
The clash between the FBI and CIA was no more intense than the prickly relationship O’Neill had with Martin Schmidt (Peter Sarsgaard), a composite figure in the CIA’s counter-terrorism unit, who borders on being obstructionist in the sharing of information.
For all his bluster and indiscretions, O’Neill fares better than others in this drama as it appears he was most prescient in being rightly convinced that the United States was headed to a nasty confrontation with pure evil.
The gruff chief of the New York FBI squad also got plenty of help from young Lebanese-American Muslim FBI agent Ali Soufan (Tahar Rahim), one of the few agents capable of speaking Arabic and thus, a key player.
The three years leading up to 9/11 are fraught with signs of impending terrorism, and the antagonistic Schmidt holds on tight to the knowledge that known al-Qaeda members have entered in the United States.
Above all, “The Looming Tower” is a political thriller that veers from tense intelligence briefings heavy on crisp and biting dialogue to action in the field in places as diverse as Albania, Pakistan and East African nations.
What transpires in “The Looming Tower,” even when dramatized for maximum effect, is so gripping that every episode should be eagerly anticipated.