Movie review: ’13 Hours’ unlike previous Michael Bay films
–When you see a movie is directed by Michael Bay, it usually conjures a certain kind of movie. He is the director of “Armageddon,” “Pearl Harbor” and “Transformers.” He makes loud, brash, and CGI-heavy action comedies, and that’s not the kind of film that appeals to everyone.
I have always kind of liked Bay’s films for what they are. You know what you’re going to get — some funny lines, a couple likeable characters, an easy to follow plot, explosions and plenty of slow motion shots. You can almost take that formula to the bank.
Which is what made Bay a curious choice for “13 Hours,” a film about what went wrong when a United States outpost was attacked in Benghazi, Libya. The attack made the news for months, and continues to be a black spot on the record of then-Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. And with Clinton running for President in the elections 11 months from now, the film figured to be a political hot button.
But that’s what makes “13 Hours” so surprising. It’s not overly political. And it’s not what you’d expect from a Bay film. Instead it’s a gritty, unflinching portrait of Americans trying to survive a harrowing situation. It’s a story of heroes that has been lost among the political fighting and blame game that followed the real life events.
The film centers on a group of six ex-military private contractors assigned to protect a covert CIA base in Benghazi. The story picks up with Jack Silva (John Krasinski), a former Navy Seal, who arrives at Benghazi as the sixth member of the private security team. He was recruited by his friend and former Seal Rone (James Badge Dale), who serves as leader of the six-man team.
Soon Jack meets the rest of the group — Tanto (Pablo Schreiber), Boon (David Denman), Tig (Dominic Fumusa) and Oz (Max Martini) — and gets thrown into missions right away. The team reports to the CIA Station Chief, Bob (David Costabile), who doesn’t always seem thrilled to have the group around.
Soon, U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens (Matt Letscher) makes a visit to Benghazi, a 400-mile journey from the safety of the Embassy in Tripoli. He brings a small security team with him, relying on the Libyan forces to secure his residence. But on September 11, locals attack without warning, overrunning the small security force. That leaves Rone and his team to spring into action and try to save as many people as possible until help arrives.
Bay, as I said, is known for a certain type of film. This is very different from that type of film. It’s a tense, gritty war movie. It doesn’t pull any punches. There are light-hearted moments between the characters, but a bulk of this film is a serious exploration of the life-and-death circumstances that surrounded a tense 13-hour period in Benghazi, and what it took for so many to survive.
Chuck Hogan — who wrote the novel “The Town” was based upon and is a co-writer/producer for “The Strain” on FX — does a nice job with the screenplay here. It’s based on the book from Mitchell Zuckoff and chronicles the work done by the six-man protection team, seeing the events mostly from their point-of-view.
Everyone is aware of the fate of Ambassador Stevens, and while that’s a tragedy I didn’t realize how brutal the attack was and how long it lasted. The film does a nice job of chronicling the attack on the residence were Stevens was staying, as well as the covert CIA base, and how much it took for the small group of contractors and State Department security officers to repel the attackers. It’s a story that’s been lost in all the Senate hearings and news coverage, and one that is well served by the film.
That being said, this isn’t an overly political film. It does reference the fact that the United States military never responded, but doesn’t go into details about why. It isn’t looking to make some kind of grand accusation, but rather celebrate the heroism of the men who fought to protect U.S. lives on the ground. It’s a chance to tell their story; a story lost amidst the political reality of these tragic events.
Many have hailed “13 Hours” as the best film Bay has ever made, which is true. It’s also a remarkably different kind of film for him and a great way of stretching as a director. It’s not an easy story to watch, but it’s well told.
“13 Hours” has been rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for R for strong combat violence throughout, bloody images, and language. Enter with caution.
Three stars out of four.