13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
Dir: Michael Bay
Starring: John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Pablo Schreiber, David Denman, Dominic Fumusa, Max Martini, David Costabile, Alexia Barlier, and Toby Stephens
3.00 out of 5.00
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
MONTE YAZZIE ~ THE FOOTHILLS FOCUS ~ 1/20/16
On September 11th, 2012 a group of heavily armed militants from Libya attacked a United States diplomatic compound in Benghazi. The group quickly overwhelmed the compound and set fire to the buildings and later launched mortar rounds at a secret C.I.A. compound that was within a few miles of the first attack. U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three Americans were killed in the attacks. This tragic event is the inspiration for director Michael Bay’s new film “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi”, based from the novel by Mitchell Zuckoff, which includes accounts from the security contractors who were working with the C.I.A. during the attacks, “13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi”. Michael Bay, a director known for his boisterous, excessive, and overindulgent style, tackles this heroic, chaotic story with less identifying flair than he typically expels, though that’s not saying very much considering the director’s excessive tendencies. This demonstration displays many of Bay’s strengths but also his glaring weaknesses; this both helps and hinders “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi”.
Former Navy Seal Jack Silva (John Krasinski) arrives in the heat of Benghazi and is greeted by an old acquaintance Tyrone “Rone” Woods (James Badge Dale). Jack is the new member to a security team of former elite military operatives tasked with protecting C.I.A. agents hoping to assist in the restructuring of Libya. Benghazi is dangerous, filled with weapon-carrying citizens and roaming militant squads. Jack and his team protect a compound called the Annex and escort C.I.A. operatives to meetings with different influential figures. Things take a turn for the worse when a nearby U.S. diplomatic compound is attacked, forcing the team to take action in order to save lives and stay alive.
Michael Bay understands how to construct an action film: big explosions over big special effects combined with dynamic photography and breakneck editing; it can be difficult to completely register what is going on at times but it’s also strangely hypnotic, mind-numbingly so. Regardless of how one may feel about these extremes, the director is one of the best at utilizing them. Bay has scaled back these elements within “13 Hours” but his distinctive signatures still permeate in many moments. Unfortunately, in one dramatic instant, it’s used in the absolute worst way. Once the build-up ends and the action takes over completely, Bay keeps the tension high and the action quick and frenzied by utilizing a mix of first-person perspective photography, wide angle establishing shots, constant flashes of gun fire, and violence that is rapid and in a few moments graphically rendered.
With Bay operating with a little more restraint, it offers an opportunity for more character developments to shine through. The introduction allows ample time to get to know these brave men operating in a system that doesn’t quite accept or appreciate them. For instance, the director of the C.I.A. compound consistently talks down and berates these men’s lifestyle and purpose. Unfortunately, most of the structure avoids the deeper angles, like the enemies these men fight both in the smoky fields and abandoned buildings that surround the compound and those operating on the American side miles away, safe and sound, watching the conflict in front of a computer. The film opts for the simplified version of dedicated men doing a dangerous job. The only offering of insight comes when these soldiers are given little moments to communicate with family via video or during down time between gun fights to talk about life away from the battle, but these moments come as secondary filler flashes instead of being purposefully designed. This underutilization of character building lessens the emotional aspects that could have allowed a greater connection to these characters.
John Krasinski is exceptional here, crafting a character that is professionally focused but also wholly aware and affected by the risk he is taking. James Badge Dale, playing the team leader, and Pablo Schreiber, playing the smart aleck of sorts, are also very good in their roles throughout.
“13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” doesn’t tell the most cohesive story, and the characters lack the nuance that would provide them greater emotional connection. However, underneath the excesses of Michael Bay’s filmmaking style, restrained yet still obviously noticeable here, is a film about heroes and the dedication, responsibility, and self-sacrifice that define their commitment to America. Bay never sways from this fundamental purpose, even if his indulgent filmmaking signature sometimes overshadows the spotlight.