Film Review: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Written By Scott Clifford

13 Hours Poster

Wow, it’s happened. I watched a Michael Bay film that I can’t help but enjoy since The Rock.  Asking Michael Bay to make a nuanced film about a politically charged event may seem as bad of an idea as having a toddler lick the ends of a Duracell battery, but it actually almost works. For once, Bay has avoided constantly cutting to a different shot every nineteen frames or so like a boardroom executive cocaine addict, and instead lets the audience know that he actually put some thought into his latest film before blowing things up. There are even sincere attempts to humanize the characters of the film before sending them off to get shot at by scary terrorists. Sure, the characters are clichéd but that’s probably because the soldiers who wrote the book 13 Hours were really like that. Unfortunately, many of the events that are claimed to be true are a complete fabrication. It’s irresponsible and will trick many viewers into believing false information. With that being said, it’s time to light up some green flares and get to the synopsis.

13 Hours pic 1

After a series of title cards that explain the political aftermath of the death of Muammar Gaddafi, Jack Da Silva (John Krasinski), a former Navy SEAL arrives in Benghazi, Libya as a private contractor for a secret U.S. base where nothing could ever possibly go wrong. Also, a mile away from this base is a “temporary diplomatic outpost” that houses Chris Stevens (Matt Letscher), the U.S. ambassador to Libya. This outpost has terrible security since it’s not supposed to be an official embassy, although it may as well be. Again, what could possibly go wrong? Jack rides with one of his contractor buddies who explain to him that everyone is dangerous because you can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys. It’s a lazy way to give exposition, but it leads to an intense stand-off when a group of unknown Libyan militia members try to force the gun-toting Americans to allow an inspection. Needless to say, the bad asses don’t let the Libyans inspect anything, and we’re taught that almost anyone who isn’t American is probably bad.  The wonderful cinematography and solid acting keep us glued on the screen as we finally meet the CIA chief named Bob (that’s not a joke people), played by David Costabile of Breaking Bad fame. Bob, who may not be portrayed so accurately to his real life counterpart, is the antithesis of all the heroes we are supposed to like in the film. He’s effeminate, doesn’t work out, and would rather talk to someone from Harvard or Yale then a “real” American soldier. Bob represents everything we’re supposed to hate about our country, as he stops our heroes from saving the day.

Tension rises to a point where Da Silva and the rest of the team decide to ignore Bob, disobey their orders and save the ambassador. As expected, it doesn’t work out and they’re forced to stand their ground back at their secret base in order to survive against the hordes of faceless terrorists so they can see their families on Skype connections that have a higher quality than most televisions that I look at in retail stores today. They shoot up the U.S. flag (whoa symbolism!), we shoot them back while joking about sheep banging each other, they shoot us some more, the sun begins to rise, mortars fall, kill some of our guys and Bay’s ability to restrain himself slowly fades away. Slow-mo shots and shaky cam sequences betray the previous aesthetic that had been established but the film isn’t ruined because of them. Honestly, some of the slow-mo shots are pretty cool. Finally, things come to a close as Libyan aircraft get our soldiers and CIA personnel out of harms way and back to the families of the soldiers we watched for two and a half hours.

Normally I would leave well enough alone by saying that it’s the end of a decent action movie that may be a bit too long and call it a day, but I can’t due to politics. I believe that Bay wants to avoid the political mess that this movie finds itself in as much as possible just like I do when writing this review but we can’t. While Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama aren’t directly mentioned, there are enough jokes and subtle cues that try to trick the audience into believing current radical right-wing conspiracy theories about the Benghazi event. A contention point for me here is Sona (Alexia Barlier), a female representative of Exxon, mentions that she called for air support but it never came. To add fuel to the fire, we see American jets just sitting on the runway as our heroes get shot at throughout the movie. It’s one of many dogwhistles that try to tell us that the government purposely left our troops to die even though it’s blatantly not true. Many will counter that all movies based on true stories have to take dramatic license with the facts, but that doesn’t mean that you can lie to me just because you told me that everything was “based on a true story” in the beginning of the film. The sad thing is that Bay could’ve just said that this was based on the soldier’s point of view in the beginning and I honestly would have let everything go.

13 Hours pic 2

It’s as if Bay can’t seem to shake the fact that he divides the entire world into four categories. The first category is made up of women that he wants to have sex with. The second category is made up of bros that are always right because they are American and can beat the crap out of you. The third category is made up of wusses that he wants to beat up because they care too much about academics. Finally, the fourth category is the audience who better shut the heck up and like it if they know what’s good for them no matter how many lies they catch him saying on a regular basis. To be fair, I don’t believe that someone’s vision should be completely censored because I disagree with him or her. I just feel that this philosophy has stifled his ability as a filmmaker for a very long time. The best example of this is a scene between Sona and one of Jack Da Silva’s contractor friends on the rooftop of the secret U.S. base during a lull in the fighting between the U.S. and Libyan terrorists. A conversation ensues between the two as they exchange different courses of action that they wanted to take to help their situation but can’t due to factors that are beyond their control. It’s heartfelt and reminded me that Michael Bay and his team are made up of real human beings like everyone else. Sadly, having Sona trip and fall for a comedic moment because she’s a woman ruins the whole thing. I’m not kidding, the entire audience laughed, and a dude in front of me mentioned that she had nice legs since her “convenient” fall let us see them. To top it off, when she gets up the soldier mentions that the U.S. military should have at least flown an unarmed jet at high speeds over the terrorists in order to “put the fear of God into them”. He says it with such sincerity that you really do believe him until you Google search his idea. That’s when you learn that it would have ended terribly.

Oh well, at least the explosions were awesome!

Technical rating: C+/B- for well-directed action sequences, good chemistry between actors and a simple script that panders to the audience. It’s everything I want in a movie at the theater even if the rating I’m giving it doesn’t seem that great.

Artistic rating/responsibility (if you believe in that sort of thing): D-/D for subverting the heroic journey of these brave soldiers to get brownie points from certain political groups instead of uniting us as a country to appreciate the people who serve us even if we disagree with their leaders who give them their orders.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 10

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