13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
by Hope Madden
While it may be tough to separate the release of 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi from the US presidential race, there’s little question that the tale itself offers the kind of compelling material suitable for the big screen.
Director Michael Bay helms the film chronicling the disastrous consequences of understaffing the security detail surrounding an American ambassador and a secret CIA installation in one of the globe’s most unstable nations.
The trivia section for this film’s IMDB page notes that this is Michael Bay’s third film based on true events, after Pearl Harbor and Pain & Gain. That does not inspire a lot of optimism. And yet, for a Michael Bay film, 13 Hours is surprisingly restrained, respectful, and solid.
Had it been any other director, the word “restrained” would probably not appear in that sentence, but Bay dials down his own bombast to a degree that is genuinely surprising.
The screenplay, written by Chuck Hogan from Boston Globe reporter Mitchell Zuckoff’s book (co-written by surviving members of the security team), offers the point of view of the veteran security detail hired by the CIA to police and protect their compound. Staffed by retired Marines, Navy SEALs, and Army Special Forces, the security team on the ground on the 11th anniversary of the September 11th attacks had the skills, but not the number, to contend with the organized militant attack.
John Krasinski and James Badge Dale anchor the film with believable if under-dimensional performances of two of the security contractors in a by-the-numbers combat procedural.
Sidestepping politics in favor of nerve-shredding action, Bay creates set piece after explosion-and-firebombing-ready set piece. His tendencies and crutches are on full display, though the film feels relatively simply crafted when compared to his other atrocious efforts. It’s a welcome change of pace because self-congratulatory violence would undermine this truly harrowing ordeal.
Yes, CIA agents are painted as one-dimensional pencil pushers jealous of and abusive to their physically superior security guards; yes, individual character weaknesses are exaggerated; yes, tragedies and fatalities are telegraphed from the opening scene. And, yes, the story these survivors have to tell would likely have been better handled by another filmmaker.
13 Hours, though, is not a terrible film. It’s no Zero Dark Thirty, not even a Lone Survivor, and perhaps the sheer volume of blood spilled for the sake of excitement and hoo-rah is too great to consider the film deeply respectful of its subject matter. But I think it’s safe to say that Bay really tried, and, to a limited degree, he succeeded.