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New Review: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016)

Updated on February 2, 2016

Director: Michael Bay
Cast: James Badge Dale, John Krasinski, Max Martini, Dominic Fumusa, Pablo Schreiber, David Denman, Alexia Barlier, Toby Stephens, Matt Letscher, Freddie Stroma, David Costabile

Anyone who knows me knows that I am not even sort of a fan of Michael Bay. I’ve never really understood the appeal of his style of filmmaking, and while the majority of his movies are merely dumb, there are a few that were shockingly distasteful and offensive (like Bad Boys II and Pain & Gain).

Having said that, a part of me was curious when I saw that he would be directing 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. It looked really good, so I started thinking that maybe this could be Bay’s best work as a filmmaker. It is, technically, his best film to date, although that has nothing to do with his work behind the camera. If anything, his bombastic visual flourishes are the worst things about it.

Before we start, let’s get one thing clear: In spite of what some critics will have you to believe, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is not a political movie. While the tragedy that occurred in Benghazi back in 2012 has been a political hot topic, director Michael Bay is more concerned with the event itself than the politics behind it. His focus remains on the soldiers trapped during that hellish night, which is as it should be. As someone who gets seriously bored with politics in general, I consider this a blessing.

This should have been far more exciting! :/
This should have been far more exciting! :/

The movie is based on the book by Mitchell Zuckoff, who co-wrote it with the security team members who were involved in the battle in question, and is said to be as accurate an account as one is likely to get about what really happened that night. Whether it is or not, I cannot say (I wasn’t there), but I’m choosing not to doubt it. The movie tells of what happened on September 11, 2012 in Benghazi, after an army of radical terrorists attack a US compound where an American Ambassador was staying. Six members of a security team defied their orders to stand down to go in and rescue him.

The rescue mission was not a total success (they rescued some, but the Ambassador died in the chaos), and on the ride back to base, they pick up a tail, which leads the terrorists straight back to their secret headquarters. What follows is a long battle where terrorist rebels would surround the base and fire everything at their disposal at them, while those who weren’t fighting tried calling in for reinforcements, to no avail. There’s a scene where one woman calls in for air support, and the guy on the other end of the line says, “What authority do you have?”

The movie focuses mainly on a few of the six soldiers, notably Jack Da Silva (John Krasinski), who learns that his wife back home is pregnant with their third child, and Tyrone S. “Rone” Woods (James Badge Dale), Da Silva’s personal friend. We get the obligatory scenes of the men talking with their loved ones back home before the fighting started, and in the hands of lesser actors, it might have felt corny and phony. But Krasinski and Dale are both very good actors, and they keep the proceedings as grounded in reality as humanly possible.

James Badge Dale: I liked him in The Lone Ranger, and I like him here. I want to see more of this guy!
James Badge Dale: I liked him in The Lone Ranger, and I like him here. I want to see more of this guy!

There’s a really good story here, but it’s one that Michael Bay is not equipped to tell. I understand that he’s passionate about the material, and I respect that. But when it comes to the action scenes, and there are a lot of them here, he butchers them with his usual visual bombast. The camera shakes so much, and the editing is so choppy, that it’s impossible to tell just what in the heck is going on most of the time.

Some of you might argue that combat is like that: confusing, chaotic, and intense. I’m sure it is (I’ve never been in battle before), and it’s something that Ridley Scott mastered when he made Black Hawk Down back in 2001. The fights scenes there were confusing and chaotic, but they were also extremely intense because we could tell (for the most part) what was happening on screen. You have to struggle with 13 Hours, and because of this, the tension is lost. A filmmaker can make battle scenes that are confusing and chaotic but still very exciting. 13 Hours only offers a lot of visual noise.

That being said, while my thumb is down, I really don’t consider this a bad movie. If you’re curious about the story, but don’t have the time to pick up the book and read, then you might find it satisfying. If you have time to read the book, then that might be the way to go. The story here is compelling, and the actors are fine. It’s just that I don’t think Michael Bay was the right man for the job here. It’s not unwatchable, but it had the potential to be so much more than this.

Final Grade: ** ½ (out of ****)

Rated R for strong bloody violence and lots of profanity

What did you think of this movie? :D

Cast your vote for 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016)

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