Follow Us on Twitter

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi - DVD Review

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Beghazi

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

MICHAEL Bay has tried his hand at turning true stories into movies before, but in the case of Pearl Harbor and Pain And Gain the results were abysmal.

Hence, describing 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi as one of the director’s better movies in a long time would seem to be damning it with faint praise. But while far from subtle, and bullet-riddled with so many of the bad elements that have bludgeoned their way into so many of his recent movies, this also has some genuinely strong moments.

Based on the non-fiction book 13 Hours by New York Times best-selling author Mitchell Zuckoff, the film follows the ‘true story’ of the six elite ex-military operators who were assigned to protect a secret CIA facility in Benghazi, Libya, who fought back against overwhelming odds when terrorists attacked a US diplomatic compound on September 11, 2012.

Politically, the attack itself continues to remain sensitive, with the involvement of then Secretary of State Hilary Clinton still under much debate given the controversy surrounding the manner in which the events unfolded and the loss of American life that ensued.

But Bay’s film doesn’t really concern itself with the politics, opting instead to take the soldiers’ point of view. Similarly, the soldiers in question are solely American, with no attempt to see the story from the Libyan perspective.

So, yes, this decision does deprive a complex real world issue of any necessary complexity, and 13 Hours certainly feels weaker – and more prone to criticism – for it.

But then Bay has always been a pro-military filmmaker whose enthusiasm for the hardware and machinery of war has continually bordered on the fetishistic. So, the surprise here is that while he still gets to indulge this passion, there is a little more room for humanity as well.

As told from the perspectives of the men on the ground, this does grip and even strike an emotional chord. Both John Krasinski, as Jack Silva, and James Badge Dale, as Tyrone “Rone” Woods, are given enough time to create characters worth rooting for and sympathising with, juxtaposing their role as guardians and gung-ho soldiers with insights into their fears and insecurities… as well as their desperate desire to get home to be reunited with their families.

And while Bay does, of course, use their paternal status as a means to find some sentimentality amid the pain and chaos, this film never approaches the exploitative levels of the dire Pearl Harbor. In fact, there’s a moment at the end, when Krasinski’s Silva breaks down, that offers one of the most poignant scenes that Bay has ever delivered – thereby allowing Krasinski to really display some acting chops.

And within a hair’s breath of that scene comes a little biting observation, too, as the rescue effort that does finally arrive turns out to be of a Libyan nature, prompting one disgruntled soldier to mutter: “And still no Americans.” It lands as it should, serving as a short, sharp indictment of the perceived failure of the politicians involved to step in and protect their own.

Of course, such moments are fleeting. For the real spectacle in 13 Hours comes from the combat scenes themselves, which Bay delivers in typically bombastic style.

The early attack on the US Ambassadors’ complex is notable for its chaos. It’s often difficult to see what is going on, or to decipher who the enemy is – a point that Bay is keen to highlight throughout. And while this undoubtedly leads to some frustration for the viewer in attempting to figure out who’s who, it also afford some insight into what it must have been like on the ground.

The attack on the CIA compound that follows is much more cleanly executed and does succeed in leaving you holding your breath in anticipation. But while technically impressive, there remain those annoying Bay traits – where that need to show off comes at the expense of the emotional reality of what is unfolding (something that Steven Spielberg and even Ridley Scott never lost sight of in either Saving Private Ryan or Black Hawk Down).

Hence, Bay’s decision to shoot the demise of one key character from the point of view of a bomb, borrowing a similarly crass ‘money shot’ from Pearl Harbor, feels particularly insensitive (just as it did then), while slow-motion shots of bodies being torn apart by bullets, or the American flag in tatters, are again exploitative (ie, we don’t need the slow-mo to fully appreciate the horror of modern combat).

Overall, 13 Hours does rather showcase the good, the bad and the ugly of Michael Bay. But it’s better elements just about outweigh its worst, making this a much better movie than a lot of people would have predicted.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 144mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: June 13, 2016