(Scored out of 10; below 5 = not worth seeing, 6 = OK, 7 = good, 8 = great, 9 = fantastic, 10 next to perfect)
Deep inside of 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi lays a tight, intense and dramatic action/thriller with memorable characters. On the surface, Michael Bay has created another crowded, chauvinistic film that deflects political import in favor of flash and excess. 13 Hours has its moments, but for the most part, it’s a Michael Bay movie.
Transporting us back to Libya in 2012, a year after long time Libyan dictator, Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi was killed, 13 Hours explores the events surrounding a terrorist attack on US compounds within Libya and the lengths a squad of contract soldiers went to in order to ensure the safety of the people inside. Jack Silva (John Kasinski), Tyrone “Rone” Woods (James Badge Dale), as well as Mark “Oz” Geist (Max Martini), Kris “Tanto” Paronto (Pablo Schreiber), John “Tig” Tiegen (Dominic Fumusa), and one Dave “Boon” Benton (David Denman) comprise the team of contract soldiers and are viewed as nothing but a last ditch security measure by the CIA Chief (David Constabile).
Silva and the band of mercenaries voice their concerns about the dismal security surrounding US Ambassador Chris Stevens (Matt Letscher) but the compounds security details assures them that all is well. On the anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks, cells of militant locals attack the compound proving Silva and company right. Things quickly go south and when backup seems like an improbability, it is up to the contractors to launch a daring rescue mission and defend against the impending attack on the Benghazi CIA annex.
At its core, 13 Hours had everything going for it. A tight script developed by Chuck Hogan, solid source material in Mitchell Zuckoff’s 2014 book “13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi” and an ensemble of talented character actors. The film goes from scene to scene with little narrative overflow. The film tells you what you need to know without getting bogged down by extraneous politics or plot threads. However, issues begin to arise when you realize that the house built upon the rock solid foundation is made of straw. Michael Bay chooses to color in black and white, barely shading in the tension brewing between the outcast contractors and the high and mighty CIA operatives. On the same note, Bay depicts each of his characters as archetypes, skirting any sense of individuality and assigning lone personality traits to each of the soldiers.
In addition to the poorly conceived character work and the mismanaged setup, 13 Hours makes zero effort to portray Libyans as anything other than terrorists or lethargic nitwits. Aside from Ahmal (Peyman Moaadi, who does a great job conveying a mix of genuine confusion and adrenaline fueled bravado), every single civilian is either a gun toting maniac or sitting in the middle of a warzone watching soccer. When you take into account the sheer amount of Libyans slaughtered on screen in comparison to the US casualties, the film turns into a “fuck yea, ‘Murica!” propaganda piece.
But if there is one thing Michael Bay does well, it is action. 13 Hours is a tour de force in the stylish yet gritty set-piece department. The dynamic camera work engages the audience to the point that they feel a part of the on screen chaos. The fast paced editing and Bay’s aesthetic choices make the action kinetic and a true joy to watch.
Yet even here Bay succumbs to his usual tendencies. The spectacle takes center stage and drags for far too long and his need for shocking, grotesque visuals borderlines absurdity. You have people getting literally chopped in half with gunfire, soldiers cooking grenades resulting in blown off limbs and mortar shells ripping people to shreds. It gets to the point that watching these people roam the battlefield is more reminiscent of a zombie film than a wartime thriller. In that same breath, I have to admit that I was entertained. The man knows how to sell action, despite how lengthy, racist or disgusting it is.
As previously stated, the characters don’t get any development beyond their designated roles. Kasinsky plays the family man who can’t rid himself of the war, Tanto is the joker and Rone is the patriotic leader. There are a few moments that tease us with potential depth but Bay quickly realizes his wrongdoing and cracks a string of shit/dick jokes to make up for it. Each respective actor does a great job bringing these characters to life, imbuing them with a sense of purpose that belies the dialogue (the newly buff John Kasinsky and James Badge Dale especially). The one sour note in the performance department comes from David Constabile, though with such a poorly written character I can’t completely blame him.
There are moments where 13 Hours truly shines, but those are swiftly forgotten and replaced with myriad “Bay-isms” that take away any semblance of potential. If you can distance yourself from the rampant bigotry and juvenile humor, 13 Hours is a well-acted, visually enthralling actioner that just outstays its welcome (6/10). If you can’t, 13 Hours is a well-acted, visually impressive piece of shit (3/10). Ultimately, it comes down to preference.
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