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An American Ambassador is killed during an attack at a U.S. compound in Libya as a security team struggles to make sense out of the chaos.
Michael Bay is peacefully protesting with his newest action bonanza, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. At least, it’s as peaceful as an action movie can get. Never fear shoot-‘em-up nerds. There is plenty of night-vision gunplay and some particularly beautiful explosions. The vibrancy of the nighttime battle sequences (they make up most of the film’s climax) is Michael Mann-like. It’s actually one of Bay’s more visually stimulating films. And while there is a major political element to 13 Hours—any modern film set in any recent time in the Middle East has to be considered political in today’s climate—it isn’t so much soaked in patriotism. Instead it’s asking a question, “Why are we still doing this to each other?” There’s a palpable appeal being made to put the guns down, go home to your family, and appreciate the sweetness of life. It’s maybe gooey and simplistic, but a message is a message, and this one ain’t so bad.
Based off the unfortunate and shocking events that led to the death of American Ambassador Chris Stevens, who died while under attack at an Embassy outpost in Libya in 2012, 13 Hours focuses on the heroics of six ex-military men who, while working under contract as a security unit, ended up fighting off the insurgent attack. While Ambassador Stevens (and an unfortunate tech employee) didn’t survive that day, many CIA intelligence agents stationed in a compound not far from the Embassy outpost did. Team GRS (Global Response Staff) have to overcome the annoying attention to protocol of the CIA intelligence officer who hired them (played by an animatedly dislikable David Costabile). But they do so in the nick of time. And we call them heroes for it. And they are heroes. I never know how to define a “hero” these days, but I’m pretty sure these fellas fit the bill.
We meet the members of GRS about a day or two before the attacks. Jack (John Krasinski), “Rone” (James Badge Dale), “Tanto” (Pablo Schreiber), “Boon” (David Denman), “Tig” (Dominic Fumusa), and “Oz” (Max Martini), make up the six-man security detail. As the attacks begin they are in full battle mode, but before the attacks we get to know them as brothers doing fun stuff like locking and loading, and making sardonic quips. Screenwriter Chuck Hogan doesn’t stray far from the recognizable deadpan delivery we come to expect in these modern battlefield films. Boon welcomes Jack (as he’s the last to join the gain in a classic “call in the team” set up) by referring to Benghazi as “Club Med.” But it most certainly is not Club Med, Jack! And if you laugh hard enough, you might feel like one of the boys. On a side note: isn’t it nice to see David Denman and John Krasinski graduate from pushing paper in The Office to blasting away fools in 13 Hours? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure which scenario is scarier.
The script is sometimes a chore, but then again, what the real people in this tragedy had to go through turns the chore into a duty—it’s the least I can do. And Bay is merciful with all the stuff between the lines. These men are family men—this is an important theme in the film. But it isn’t stressed to the point where tears of sorrow turn to tears of boredom. There’s one fleeting flashback to Jack’s life back home with his two daughters and wife. Otherwise it’s mostly montages of calls home on a variety of tablets and laptops. Though the boys love that tingly sensation one must get when entering a warzone, the message is clear, enough is enough. This is where 13 Hours gets political in a way I didn’t think would happen. Instead of picking sides, over-criticizing government operandi (which happens plenty on a micro-scale, as all the CIA intelligence agents are basically assholes), or going on some crusade based on stereotypes, the larger message is that all of this is not fun anymore for anyone. The insurgents, who for the most part are bearded but faceless baddies, are shown in the end to be family men themselves, and to perhaps even regret all the life lost on that night.
In fact, Bay’s 13 Hours may be a stroke of genius. For most of it’s two-hour-plus runtime, it’s a rootin’ tootin’ action flick, but as we get closer to the end, and some of our heroes falls, and limbs are dangling, and blood is spraying more vibrantly in the dawn of day than in the dark of night, the fun kind of stops. What ex-military personnel often find is that “regular life” is too boring when compared to the battlefield. John Krasinski brought this up on Bill Maher’s HBO show recently, and Eastwood’s American Sniper was very much focused on this phenomenon. But by the end of 13 Hours, romanticizing warfare looks about as appealing as actually picking up a gun and heading off to battle.
- Acting - 5/105/10
- Cinematography - 7/107/10
- Plot/Screenplay - 7/107/10
- Setting/Theme - 6/106/10
- Buyability - 6/106/10
- Recyclability - 2/102/10
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