13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, 2016
Directed by Michael Bay
Starring John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Toby Stephens, Pablo Schreiber, David Denman, Dominic Furnusa, Max Martini, Alexia Barlier, David Costabile, Peyman Moaadi, and Matt Letscher
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.
Whenever I give myself to a Michael Bay film, I prepare for the absolute worst. That’s not to say I am biased against the man; he just simply makes movies full of incoherent action, juvenile humor only prepubescent teenagers would laugh at, embarrassing levels of sexism that literally use any and every female character as a sexpot to just stand around looking hot throughout all of the aforementioned incoherent action, and the worst offense of all, zero substance.
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi avoids nearly all of these frustrating Michael Bay tropes in order to recount the jihadist attack on a Libyan U.S. diplomatic compound during the anniversary of 9/11, and how six undeniably brave ex-military private contractors came to the rescue of a defenseless American Ambassador, even when told to stand down by their superior.
I’d love to tell you which of the warriors says the quote I’m about to drop on you, but one of the surprisingly few problems with 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is that many of the faces boasting manly beards and brutish personalities are interchangeable, leaving you with people you don’t necessarily care about as characters, even if we obviously want to see American soldiers doing the right thing hopefully making it back home to their families. Anyway, one of the ex-military men tells their brainy Ivy League head of intel operations that they are done taking orders; this isn’t about spying or locating weapons anymore, he’s in their world of danger now, and they’re calling the shots now, with the goal being to hopefully rescue lives and once again, simply to come back home.
And that really is the point of Michael Bays retelling of this historical day. Politics are left at the door (Michael Bay shockingly shows a lot of restraint in gunning for the America Fuck Yeah crowd) in favor of nonstop action. Now, the problem is that many of these sequences are hindered by dizzying levels of shaky cam, constant quick-cut editing destroying any chance viewers will have of catching their bearings on the situation, rocket launchers going off from every direction, vehicles exploding left and right, and doors exploding open in slow motion, but maybe the frenetic approach is intentional. We are in the world of these soldiers, and admittedly, the pure chaos is part of this successful effect.
It is easily arguable that for the first time in his career, Michael Bay has made a mature film. Even more interesting is that while promoting the movie, Michael Bay actually commented that one of the reasons he’s going back to do another Transformers is that he actually had to beg studios to get 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi greenlit. Furthermore, that’s something that screams of corporate greed at the highest level, and has to make one wonder if Michael Bay would try harder if it were easier to get his passion projects made. That doesn’t excuse him from previously making terrible films, but it does seem that any time a film he genuinely wants to make comes along (a similar example is the hilariously underrated Pain and Gain, a movie where all of his juvenile humor perfectly blends with the true story he was recounting), it ends up being anywhere from tolerable to good.
Again, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi isn’t required cinema for the action/war genre, but it satisfies as an adrenaline rush. It takes a while to reach that relentless onslaught of bullets and missiles thanks to a lengthy, cheesy opening act showing us the families of some of these soldiers as bait for us to automatically care about the inevitable danger, but Michael Bay becomes assured in his abilities once shit hits the fan. It’s also a movie where his incoherent action can be considered a strength, depending on how much you can accept before growing tired of all the mayhem.
Get this: there’s even a female character in the movie that doesn’t exist to show off her ass. Instead, she’s actually a rather resourceful operative, hence the hypothesis that Michael Bay has finally grown up as a filmmaker. I will probably eat those words next year while reviewing Transformers 5, but as for 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, well it’s relatively accomplished action filmmaking that crucially depicts its soldiers as people that just want to go home. No one actually enjoys this, even if Michael Bay does present the chaos with bombastic Hollywood grandeur..
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★