13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi – Bay finally stands on the rock

13 hours b

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi – 2016

Director Michael Bay
Screenplay Chuck Hogan based on the book by Mitchell Zuckoff
Starring James Badge Dale, John Krasinski, Max Martini, Pablo Schreibler, Toby Stephens, Dominic Fumusa, David Denman, Matt Letscher, Alexia Barlier, David Costabile

There is a scene towards the end of 13 Hours…when we get to see the vantage of not one, but two flying mortars on their way to a payload of doom. These shots are deliberately reminiscent of another film by director Michael Bay covering an historic attack. The earlier film, Pearl Harbor, was an atrocious love story strewn within a spectacularly drawn destruction. This time around, there is an equally surprising attack, but it plays a little bit closer to the line than Bay has ever been before. It’s the kind of film one had wondered if he was ever capable of before now.

The “Secret Soldiers” of the title are six Private Military Contractors which form a Global Response Staff. Their job in Libya is to protect a secret CIA base that is a little more than a mile away from a makeshift Embassy. The team of contractors give a warning about the safety in staying there, but the options are limited due to warring tribes that have been rampant since several Western European governments and the Obama Administration helped to undermine the tyrannical Qaddafi regime. That every other country left the region’s Embassies except for the U.S. is portentous of events to come.

The night of September 11, 2012, a concerted effort by Muslims (local or not) begins outside of the Embassy and soon the place is overrun. This leads to the Global Response Staff to a state of readiness that is reputedly held back by a CIA Chief who is more concerned that they might bring the fight back to the secret base.

They decide to go without approval, but it is too late for the ambassador Chris Stevens and Sean Smith. They are able to find the latter and bring his body back with the rest of the survivors. All of this is only in the first few of the 13 hours they are going to have to endure.

How much likes this movie seems to be tied to one’s political leanings, but it really shouldn’t be. There is a concerted effort to play it down the line, even going so far as to give the film an incompetent leader, CIA Chief (Costabile) upon which is attributed a large portion of the incompetence. If anything, the whole operation between CIA, Contractors and The State Department appears disorganized and entirely reasonably terrified of their surroundings.

I will not be participating in the back and forth, because I would rather be amazed that we have Americans working in the security of Americans everywhere that face that terror on a daily basis and with all of the bravery and expertise in the world. When I see these warriors in action, there should be no dispute that they are heroes of the highest order. This aspect Bay gets right in the best ways possible.

One instance in particular is when we see one of the men take a bullet off of the helmet. He yelps, realizes that he is not hurt, then goes right back to working. While it is often hard to tell the actors and their characters apart from one another, the differences become clear after Bay carefully spends precious time and dialogue with each of them so we can see more clearly. Sure there are some cliches, but I get the feeling these are the kind of men who are more concerned with keeping people alive than they are establishing a unique identity for coddling. Krasinski, Denman, Dale, Fumusa, Martini and Schrieber all make the best of their opportunities. It would be a shame if we don’t see much more of all of them in the future.

What is remarkable about Bay’s performance as director is that we get all of the things he does well, sharp effects, crisp cuts and clear images of destruction without most of the things that he does to ruin his films. The only consistent fault I can find with the film is the portrayal of The Chief. He’s a character that fits in more with Bad Boys II than he does in the real images of life we get here. Just imagine how much more heroic the film would feel if all of the forces against the heroes were competent and not in the compound with them. The reality of it is that, no matter how we got there, we are stuck in many places in this world that have us heavily outnumbered by people who can slip in and out of crowds at will.

Still, as good as 13 Hours… is, it would be hard to watch more than once. These were real people doing excellent work, but the whole thing represents a battle our Redcoats are not winning.

(****1/2 out of *****)

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