At the end of 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (13 Hours), Michael Bay is surveying the damage of attacks on the U.S Ambassador’s residence in Benghazi, Libya. There’s a burnt out husk of a residence, blackened and smouldering. There’s rubble from explosives or the grains of structures peppered by gunfire covering the ground. The camera scans to the now dirty and debris filled pool and the once pristine U.S flag is upside down and submerged. The camera hovers, transfixed with melancholy. Now I never thought that the following words would be in a review that I would write; 13 Hours is director Michael Bay’s most politically ambivalent yet.
A team of military contractors, and former elite U.S. military personnel, assigned to protecting a covert CIA base in Benghazi Libya; who are compelled to disobey their employers orders to protect an isolated U.S ambassador under attack.
While you’d be forgiven for giving 13 Hours the “ah, it’s Bay does Black Hawk Down,” dismissal before giving it a chance; there’s a lot more under the hood of this beast than you’d think. Writer Chuck Hogan, the co-writer of The Town and The Strain (alongside Guillermo Del Toro) doesn’t allow these men to be cardboard. The team of Jack Silva (John Krasinski), Tyrone ‘Rone’ Woods (James Badge Dale), Kris ‘Tanto’ Pronto (Pablo Schreiber), Dave ‘Boon’ Benton (David Denman), John ‘Tig’ Tiegen (Dominic Furmusa) and Mark ‘Oz’ Geist (Max Martini) are no longer employed by the U.S military. They’re men who’ve decided to freelance their skills acquired in the U.S War Machine, because the money that their profession has earned them has ultimately left profound mental and monetary holes in their lives. Not only is the casting great, casting a bunch of solid character actors as an ensemble of relatable men placed in a position where they’re unable to squash their patriotic and protective impulse. CIA tradecraft from David Costabile’s head spy guy is vastly more important for him than intervening in ‘military business’ or diplomacy. The whole film has first class operatives resorting to care-taking security tasks. However, as the now liberated Libya becomes the petri dish for ISIS, their presence is most definitely warranted and their compound begins to be observed by folk who blur the line between friend and foe.
Look, it isn’t without heavy handedness; Bay can’t help but homage his missile shot from Pearl Harbour, except this time with a mortar. There’s also a pretty saccharine slow motion death of a character and their family photo, smouldering, falls out of their vest to the ground. However; it’s undeniable that Bay is one of the most exciting action directors working today, so as you’d expect, in the scenes where conflict erupts, he knows what he’s doing. Bay is able to conjure the sense of foreboding with his fast paced sweeping camera. It feels like he’s emphasising Benghazi geography peppered with the skeletons of conflict. Finally, Bay pauses for thoughtful reflection; appraising the body count of the attacking force and the bloody grief of wives, mothers and families stalking the bodies splayed along the empty intercity battlefield.
While 13 Hours doesn’t break into the echelon of the very best war films as Black Hawk Down did with similarly problematic occupation of ‘liberated’ countries, it has admirable men that have to put their pay check in front of their country.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman
Directed by: Michael Bay
Written by: Chuck Hogan (The Town, The Strain)
John Krasinski – Jack Silva
James Badge Dale – Tyrone ‘Rone’ Woods
Pablo Schreiber – Kris ‘Tanto’ Pronto
David Denman – Dave ‘Boon’ Benton
Dominic Furmusa – John ‘Tig’ Tiegen
Max Martini – Mark ‘Oz’ Geist
Alexia Barlier – Sona Jillani
David Costabile – Bob
Penman Moaadi – Amahl
Matt Lutscher – Ambassador Chris Stevens