Review: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
PLOT: The true story of a security team of six American security contractors in Benghazi who fought to defend an American diplomatic compound against a terrorist attack on September 11th, 2012.
REVIEW: 13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI benefits tremendously from director Michael Bay working with a budget that's only a fraction of what he'd spend on a TRANSFORMERS movie. A passion project for Bay, this is most disciplined film in years and a throwback to his nineties-era work. Even if some of his excesses are still present, this is a well-crafted effort. Despite the subject matter, politics are mostly avoided to deliver an exciting, fact-based action yarn.
While still running an epic 144 minutes, this is a pretty streamlined film. It's far closer to Bay's THE ROCK than it is to anything he's made in the last fifteen years. After the first act, which establishes our heroes and gives context to the situation in Benghazi, the rest of the film is focused solely on the thirteen-hour siege. Of course, this is expertly staged by Bay, who – it could never be doubted – knows his way around an action sequence.
In many ways, 13 HOURS is superior to the more ambitious AMERICAN SNIPER. Here, the events speak for themselves without going too much into the politics of the situation. The closest they ever get to making any kind of statement is the brash way David Costabile's CIA bureau chief and some of his operatives are portrayed. They treat the six contractors as brainless meatheads, only to depend on them for their lives when the carnage starts. There's also some frustration expressed at the fact that the men weren't allowed to act sooner, although this is at least given a bit of context. For the most part, this is a straightforward action-adventure and as such should be palatable to a relatively broad audience.
The atypical action cast is very good. John Krasinski is wholly convincing in action hero mode, with a pumped-up physique and a real sense of intensity. This is well illustrated by a tense showdown early-on where, only moments after landing in Libya, he finds himself in a armed standoff. James Badge Dale, who's stolen scenes in movies like THE LONE RANGER, finally gets to prove himself as a full-on lead, with him the veteran chief of the security detail. The part fits him well, thanks in no small part to his similarly beefed-up physique, a shocking transformation for the usually slim actor.
While always entertaining, 13 HOURS does have a few problems. The biggest is that other than Krasinski and Dale, the other four members of the team take a backseat to all the carnage and are limited to only a few character defining moments each. Krasinski is also absent for a large stretch of the film in the mid-section which undercuts his position as the lead and keeps us from investing too heavily in his character. As usual for a Bay film, there's also a little too much corny, frat-boy humour early-on that could have been cut-down given the hefty running time. Still, there are some moments that work, with Chuck Hogan (of THE TOWN) contributing a solid script based on Mitchell Zuckoff's nonfiction account of the siege. One bit I appreciated was when Krasinski's character panics over almost losing a contact lens before going in to battle. That's the kind of everyday detail we don't get enough of in movies like this (imagine fighting half-blind thanks to something so innocuous?).
While Bay's critics will find a myriad of reasons why not to like 13 HOURS, it's actually a solid military action film. While it's not up there with classics of the genre, it's an entertaining, testosterone-fueled ride. One thing's for sure, it proves that Bay's a far more interesting director when his resources are limited than he is directing massive franchise films.
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