Starring James Badge Dale, John Krasinski, Max Martini, Dominic Fumusa, Pablo Schreiber, David Denman, Matt Letscher, Toby Stephens, Alexia Barlier. Directed by Michael Bay. (2016, 144 min). PARAMOUNT
Either I’m losing my mind or the apocalypse is finally at-hand, because 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is a great film. This comes as a shock because it’s directed by none other than the notorious Michael Bay, our current whipping boy for the everything wrong with American cinema, who famously trivialized the horrific attack on Pearl Harbor by turning it into a shallow, bloated, FX-driven soap opera. To put my assessment in perspective, 13 Hours isn’t simply good-for-a-Michael-Bay film...it compares favorably to the likes of Black Hawk Down.
God knows I’ve done my fair share of Bay bashing, and it isn’t like he's really changed his brash, in-four-face style. But somehow, his particular skills are perfect for this film, which wisely eschews all the political baggage of this true story to focus exclusively on the incident itself. In 2012, six former soldiers (the Global Response Staff, or GRS) are ‘unofficially’ recruited to watch over the U.S. embassy (the last one remaining in war-torn Benghazi, Libya after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi), while also protecting a secret CIA base-of-operations a mile away. When militants attack the embassy during Ambassador Stevens’ visit, the GRS are initially unable to offer aid due to the supposed secrecy of the CIA outpost, but when they finally do go in, it’s too late. None of the GRS need a slide-rule to figure out the CIA outpost is the next target. With outside U.S. forces hours away and Libyan ‘friendlies’ mostly unwilling to get involved, these guys are on their own to protect the compound and everyone inside.
The premise alone makes 13 Hours smarter than any other film Michael Bay has ever cranked out. One revelation, however, is the amount of attention paid to the characters, especially Tyrone and Jack (James Badge Dale & John Krasinski), two long-time, battle-weary friends. Unlike most of Bay’s lengthy, hyperkinetic action-packed excursions, we’re afforded breathing room between the intense battle scenes to get to know most of the individuals involved, so we actually have a stake in who lives and dies.
As for the action itself, this is ironically where Bay’s oft-criticized style actually becomes an asset. These sequences are loud and chaotic, as they likely were during the incident. To depict them any other way would be a disservice to those of actually lived through it. This is another revelation...the complete respect Bay gives to the story and those involved by depicting events as accurately as possible, while still delivering an immersive, thrilling film. To be honest, I didn’t know he had it in him.
So I’m sort of troubled, since I’m usually ready and willing to bash Bay as the bane of modern movie making whenever I get the chance. But honestly, I can’t do that here. The true story behind 13 Hours is inherently riveting and Bay, accidentally or not, truly does it justice. Is he finally growing as a director? Maybe, though a fifth Transformers movie is next on his plate. This one time, however, Bay delivers much more than his trademark visual chest-thumping. 13 Hours is great stuff worth repeated viewings.
- Featurettes: “For the Record: Finding the Truth Amid the Noise”; “Uncovering Benghazi’s Secret Soldiers”; “Preparing for Battle: Behind the Scenes of 13 Hours” (a 30-minute making-of); “In Memorandum” (a montage of those who lost their lives during this incident). All of these featurettes are informative and interesting, though they didn’t really need to be included on an entirely separate disc).
- DVD & Digital Copies