13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, 2016.
Directed by Michael Bay.
Starring James Badge Dale, John Krasinski, Max Martini, Pablo Schreiber, David Denman, Dominic Fumusa, Alexia Barlier, Peyman Moaadi and David Costabile.
An American Ambassador is killed during an attack at a U.S. compound in Libya as a security team struggles to make sense out of the chaos.
It’s safe to say that anyone heading into a film directed by cinema’s “favourite” action maestro Michael Bay knows exactly what they are getting when they settle into their seat, popcorn and beverages in hand: mountains of style, the most minimal of substance but the promise of getting your monies worth in an age where tickets rarely come cheap. With 13 Hours, you won’t come away empty-handed in terms of spectacle, but everything else is still at a premium.
That last statement is more of a shame this time out than in the director’s previous films, particularly with the long-running and mind-blowingly successful Transformers franchise. We wanted giant transforming robots coming to save the world from annihilation from other giant robots and for better or worse we got what was on the tin. But with 13 Hours, his new film based on the true story of a group of heroic ex-soldiers defending American lives whilst under relentless attack in Benghazi four years ago, you could be forgiven in thinking that while still keeping his feet firmly where they feeling most comfortable that Bay was trying to break out of his comfort zone, into uncharted waters that weren’t all explosions and rapturous noise.
But despite the narrative to support a film with more to say than just pretty images, is another typical effort from the “auteur” that relinquishes any real politics or depth of character and follows the river down the same stream we have paddled many times before. That’s not to say the film is another awful mess like the last two entries with the Robots in Disguise, far from it, but you wonder what Bay is truly capable of when not being all “Michael Bay”. As ever, you can’t fault the look and feel of the film, with Bay and company excelling as ever in their formations of action and mayhem, all under the orange-hue of pulsing heat of the desert and the dark blues of daybreak.
There are some superb sequences through the film, the many play out as perfunctory without a compelling story behind it and characters we want to care about. Copious amounts of gun fire pierces the senses, explosions that fill the screen with fire and smoke and some of the most nauseating hand-held camera sequences ever as cars chase, soldiers run and terrorists fire. If you like Call of Duty or Battlefield, you may find the whole exercise unrelentingly thrilling.
And is does the job very well, particularly the middle hour of the film after its drab opening set-up but never does there feel any real point to any of it. All six of the soldiers (led by John Krasinski and Iron Man 3‘s James Badge Dale) could almost become merged together as one man, so similar in look that the film versions almost become as disposable as the enemy they are facing. Orange is the New Black‘s Pablo Schrieber comes off as the best of the bunch, injecting his usual humour but the rest barely pass the mustard, although massive kudos to all for their awesome physicalities.
As the film reaches its laboured conclusion (coming about half-hour too late), you are left with the strange feeling of satisfaction and frustration in equal measure. It’s certainly not another dud from Bay as 13 Hours contains enough excitement to keep you engrossed, but it’s a hollow shell of a film that won’t leave any lasting affection.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Scott J. Davis is Senior Staff Writer at Flickering Myth, and co-host and editor of The Flickering Myth Review Podcast. Follow him on Twitter.