13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2015)
Directed by Michael Bay
Starring John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, David Denman
The Michael Bay Redemption
By Mason Manuel
Is there any director that we love to hate more than Michael Bay? The man has unapologetically created some of the most cringe worthy of films of all time, hiding their inadequacies behind some arguably entertaining explosions. Save for Pain and Gain or The Rock, Bay has never been one to capture a human story. So it was with great reluctance and disappointment in myself that I must admit that 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is not a terrible film. In fact… it’s good. Excuse me — I have to go vomit into a bucket for a second.
Alright, I’m ready. 13 Hours focuses on the true story of a six man security team (code name G.R.S.) made up of former Special Forces that attempts to protect a series of American installations in Benghazi from attacks from the native population on September 11th, 2012. The team is built up of Jack ( The Office’s John Krasinski whose bulked bod may change history by getting women to want to see a Bay film), Rone (James Badge Dale), Oz (Max Martini), Tanto (Pablo Schreiber), Tig (Dominic Fumusa), and Boon (David Denman). What starts as an already tense situation to keep the peace evolves into an isolated all-out war between the team and attackers.
Unlike his previous war films, Bay’s latest relied heavily on the real stories of the soldiers who survived to tell the tale. Reportedly, the events that happen on screen are faithful to the actual occurrences dealing the before, during, and aftermath. Real members of the team have gone so far as to promote the film, saying that the story portrayed is a factual and detailed oriented take of the real events that happened. The story begins with Jack’s arrival to the CIA base as the newest member of the rag tag security detail. Unfortunately, the only other protection that the facility possesses is a small number of state officials and unreliable hired locals. Outgunned and outmanned, G.R.S. is forced to pull together their meager resources to fight in one of the darkest battles of history.
A great thing about 13 Hours is that there is really no political undertone or attempt to place blame on what could have been the reason for lack of air support. It’s a war film, sure, but there’s never a moment where the soldiers say “If only Hillary Clinton would have saved us!” or anything like that. Though the marketing makes the superiors of G.R.S to be overconfident and inexperienced, their dialogue proves otherwise. The leaders of the group realize that they are sitting on a powder keg; they’re in a country that is less than fond of the U.S.A. Officially, they have no jurisdiction and should not even be stationed at their post. The team is more focused on keeping people alive, diplomatic relations be damned. Both are right, both are wrong and it makes for some interesting clashes in ideology. A lot of time is spent arguing this, which again is a huge change of pace for a Bay film. Characters seem human. Not just steroid jockeys with beards, but actual human beings with families. The “bad guys” are also given some slight humanity. When the bullets fly and Libyans start to fall, their wives and children weep over their dead bodies. It’s a sympathetic side to the enemy that is rarely given in any film and I appreciate the effort given here.
But all of that feelings stuff aside, a Bay film is a Bay film and that means lots of action. Though it’s plenty entertaining for all the explosion lovers out there, the film loses a step here. The scenes are entertaining but feel repetitive after a while as it’s mostly just a bunch of dudes shooting from a roof. When the team is running around a lot of shaky cam is used and the soldiers all start to blend to where you can’t tell who is who. Besides the one who has glasses, they all have beards, and they’re jacked as f*ck so you would be forgiven for forgetting their names from one point to another.
Performance wise, everyone is on point but Krasinski and Dale are the ones who really bring it home. Badass in times of conflict, heart wrenching in moments of reflection, the pair make for a merciful tale in a merciless world. The whole team has a family back home and something to fight for and these moments where they come to realize they might not make it are some of the best the film has to offer. Some of them come to this conclusion while the bullets are flying which make for some entertaining, if not harrowing moments.
I can’t believe it. I spent money on a Michael Bay film and didn’t regret it. There are excellent performances, a faithful retelling of a devastating moment in history, and no distracting plots about why things happened. This is what happened; nothing more, nothing less. If you are looking for a war film that has heart along with the explosions, you could do worse than 13 Hours. RDR gives it a 7 out of 10.