There are a lot of ways this film could have gone wrong, but Michael Bay sticks close to the source material providing us with a surprisingly effective war drama.
On September 11th, 2012 a US outpost in Benghazi, Libya was attacked, leading to the death of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Stevens was the first US Ambassador to be killed in an attack since Adolph Dubs in 1979. In 2012 there were 294 US diplomatic missions (embassies, consulates, etc) active around the world. Of these, 12 were listed as being in areas with a “Critical” threat level, two of which were in Libya. This and other background information is provided in the opening moments of the film which spends almost the entire first act in exposition. It’s essential for the audience to understand who these Americans are, why they are in Benghazi, and what the current political climate is. Bay keeps this long setup period entertaining enough so that it’s never tedious.
Before we go any further, we should address the elephant in the room. Michael Bay’s reputation as a director has been seriously tarnished by the last eight years of Transformer films. He’s also not exactly respected for his “biopics”. Sure, “Pain & Gain” was a far cry better than “Pearl Harbor”, but didn’t it feel a bit weird to be laughing at a movie about a couple of loser psychotics who murdered people in real life? How would he handle such a sensitive subject as the Benghazi attacks? Thankfully, he sticks surprisingly close to the narrative in Mitchell Zuckoff’s book that the movie is based on which is a composite account from three of the surviving soldiers. (The other remaining soldiers were involved to a point, but chose to remain anonymous.)
The team of soldiers is made up of a great cast: Dominic Fumusa as John “Tig” Tiegen, Max Martini as Mark “Oz” Geist, Pablo Schreiber as Kris “Tanto” Paronto, James Badge Dale as Tyrone “Rone” Woods, and John Krasinski as Jack Silva. Hearing that Jim Halpert from “The Office” was cast as a former Navy Seal raised a number of eyebrows, but Krasinski is exceptional in the role. (If you haven’t seen already, he definitely bulked up for the role!)
“13: Hours” is easily Michael Bay’s best film of the past decade. He wisely dials back the Bay-isms in the first half. Sure, his tropes are there, but they are subdued. It’s also apparent that he spent a little more effort showcasing some impressive visuals that don’t involve explosions. By the final third of the film, he can no longer contain himself and goes “Full-Bay.” Explosions, bodies being shredded by gunfire, gun-sight camera views, and enough anamorphic lens flares to make JJ Abrams blush. Not all of these scenes work well, but the ones that do are incredible.
“13 Hours” is an interesting true story wrapped up in a tense war drama. The real life heroes who have been trying to get this story out in the public have said many times that this is not a partisan issue for them. They are not trying to make one political party look better than the other, in fact they “lay blame at both sides” for what happened leading up to, during, and after the attacks. The movie follows this mentality as well. Besides an obvious disdain for the CIA, the film has no political leanings. What’s interesting though is how it’s a propaganda film not for what America currently is, but for the ideals and values that it seems to have lost.
*Be sure to listen to our interview with two of the real life Former Marines featured in this movie: Oz & Tig*