13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Michael Bay: ‘Murrica! James Badge Dale, John Krasinski, Max Martini and Toby Stephens star in 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.

13 Hours The Secret Soldiers of BenghaziCast of Characters:
Tyrone S. “Rone” Woods – James Badge Dale
Jack Da Silva – John Krasinski
Mark “Oz” Geist – Max Martini
John “Tig” Tiegen – Dominic Fumusa
Kris “Tanto” Paronto – Pablo Schreiber
Glen “Bub” Doherty – Toby Stephens
Boon – David Denman
Bob – David Costabile

Director – Michael Bay
Screenplay – Chuck Hogan
Based on the book 13 Hours by Mitchell Zuckoff
Producer – Michael Bay & Erwin Stoff
Rated R for strong combat violence throughout, bloody images, and language

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Jack Da Silva (John Krasinski) is the newest member of a team of CIA contractors – Tyrone “Rone” Woods (James Badge Dale), Mark “Oz” Geist (Max Martini), John “Tig” Tiegen (Dominic Fumusa), Kris “Tanto” Paronto (Pablo Schreiber) and Boon (David Denman) – who are acting as security for an outpost that’s tracking the movement of weapons in a post-Gadhafi Libya. Since it is Libya, it’s no surprise that on the best of days, things are a little bit on the rocky side.

On the evening of Sept. 11, 2012, the eleventh anniversary of 9/11, these six men are forced into a nightmare of a situation when a group of Islamic militants attack the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi. Though told to stand their ground as only a last resort, Woods leads the other five in a desperate counter-attack against the radicals.

I remember when I first saw the trailer for 13 Hours, I was intrigued… and then “From director Michael Bay” flashed across the screen.

And as Verbal Kint once said, “And like that… it’s gone.”

You know, ’cause historical films have worked incredibly well for Bay, like Pearl Harbor, one of the few films that actually isn’t a better love story than Twilight.

Prior to 13 Hours, which is based on the 2012 Benghazi attack, Michael Bay has done two other historical films. I already mentioned the love triangle romance that was Pearl Harbor. The other was 2013’s Pain & Gain, which I actually liked; in fact, it’s the only Bay film that I do like. My initial reaction to the idea of the explosions-loving filmmaker tackling the still hot-button issue that is Benghazi was puzzlement. Were we, the moviegoing public, being punk’d? I mean, people were crying “Too soon!!” over Pearl Harbor and that came 60 years after the Japanese attacked us, so now he’s gonna do biographical film on a tragic event that’s still very much fresh in everyone’s minds?

Well, rest easy, folks, ’cause Bay has once again, for the second time, surprised me with a movie I actually enjoyed.

Kudos, Bay, you’re no longer a one-hit wonder with me. Now just churn out about ten more movies of similar caliber and you just might hit the .500 mark.

Even now, nearly 4 years removed from the attack, just saying the word Benghazi unleashes a political firestorm on both sides of the aisle, but thankfully Bay and writer Chuck Hogan avoid such politicizing, other than when one American mentions that the mortar attack must’ve been planned weeks in advance. Some may find the lack of stance off-putting, but when you have the subtlety of a sledgehammer in the gut that Bay does, backing off the soapbox is a pretty good idea. Instead, Bay and Hogan’s approach is one that avoids pointing fingers and places us right in the middle of the attack as it may have happened.

Of course, being that this is from Michael Bay, some of his visual trademarks, aka “Bay-isms”, find their way into the film. There’s his infatuation with over-saturated color, low angles galore and if you think you’re gonna go an entire film without seeing a slow-motion shot of a solider running from the impact of an explosion, just wait ’cause it will and does eventually come. But unlike his other explosion-fests, Bay is relatively restrained here, and he and Hogan take their time before unleashing the attacks.

Though it treats the real-life contractors with respect, the character development isn’t as strong as we’ve gotten in other biographical adaptations. It’s fairly standard stuff, and out of all the six men, John Krasinski’s Jack Da Silva is given the most focus in regard to his personal life and is the only one who comes close to being a fully-realized figure.

That said, it’s thanks to the cast’s performances that the minimal character depth isn’t too much of a detriment to the film. There’s a difference between Megan Fox turning out a zero performance from Transformers character with zero development and an underrated character actor like James Badge Dale elevating a standard character. The performances are all solid, and despite some corny dialogue, the humor mostly works mainly from the sense of camaraderie the six men have. A nearly unrecognizable Krasinski (who teams up again David Denman, Jim’s rival Roy from The Office) gives one of his strongest performances, and it’s nice to see a charismatic Dale, mostly a supporting actor, get an opportunity to carry a film.

Breaking Bad fans will enjoy seeing David Costabile (the ill-fated Gale Boetticher) as the obligatory sniveling chief, who has no problem barking orders at the six to “stand-down” until the compound is stormed and he turns into an indecisive weakling. It’s a cliche character, but Costabile brings a suitable arrogance to the part.

For all the faults 13 Hours may have, what can’t be said about it is that it’s boring. Bay loves his firepower and uses it to fashion together some tense action sequences. What distinguishes a film like this from the nauseating pyrotechnic shows Bay typically subjects moviegoers to is that he’s at least trying to deliver a sincere tribute to those involved in this attack, which really does make all the difference. As an action film, you could argue that it’s Bay’s most accomplished film from a coherence standpoint.

13 Hours doesn’t have the nuance of Black Hawk Down, United 93, Argo or Zero Dark Thirty, all better films based on true American events, but despite indulging in a few of his annoying trademarks, Michael Bay manages to pull off a suspenseful and, above all else, respectful recreation of the Benghazi attack. No, it’s not perfect, but knowing Bay, we could’ve gotten another Pearl Harbor, and thankfully he executes this reenactment with considerably more restraint than normal to make that not the case.

I give 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi a B (★★★).

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