MOVIE REVIEW: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
"13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI"-- 1 STAR
To a tremendously smart section of moviegoers, Michael Bay matches the definition applied to his name from Urban Dictionary. Submitted in 2005, "Michael Bay" is defined as "an untalented director," and that was before the onslaught of "Transformers" films since 2007. The detailed description after that brief definition is the best part, scathing and citation-worthy:
"Except for 'The Rock,' Michael Bay has made nothing but crap. His directing style is poor, as he literally believes that an edit every second is the best way to make a film. I don't think it's possible to physically count the number of cuts and explosions in his films within one human lifetime. The guy can't even make a decent movie with the insane budget he gets to work with. His movies, albeit entertaining on some level, are the equivalent to an empty orgasm - completely unsatisfying, equally frustrating and definitely not worth the effort.
The guy needs to either expand on his predictable, unvaried style of filmmaking (although, I can't imagine him having the balls or the talent to do so) or just stop wasting good money and go away. Without this ass-load of money invested in his movies, Bay can't do shit. His inability to improvise, his lack of creativity, and his need for a big budget (because he's too incompetent to come up with something impressive with less funding) makes him the most pointless and deficient person in this business."
As they say on Pinterest, "nailed it!" Eleven years after that definition, Michael Bay hasn't changed a bit and "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi" only adds to the nausea and noise he calls filmmaking.
The subject of "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi" is the tepidly-reviewed non-fiction book written by Mitchell Zuckoff about what transpired during the September 11-12, 2012 attacks on U.S. government facilities in Libya. Zuckoff's book and the film is told from the point of view of the security contractors that worked for the CIA at that time. The book sought to tell the harrowing story without siding with any politics. Michael Bay's film cannot help itself from taking brotherhood-fueled sides and blow everything up.
Former TV star John Krasinski plays Jack Da Silva, one of two lead protagonists. The other is Tyrone Woods, played by James Badge Dale of "Flight" and "The Walk." Jack is portrayed as a skilled soldier and family man newly arrived to Libya, where crashed fighter planes and burned out tanks are fashionable lawn ornaments, answering the call for a short-term and high-paying security gig. Tyrone is shown to be the grizzled-and-chiseled Benghazi expert and ultra-prepared leader who can throw down or tough-talk to get his way in any situation.
Jack joins Tyrone's team consisting of fellow ex-military specialists hired as CIA "G.I. Joe" catalog muscle, including "Oz" (war movie vet Max Martini), "Tanto" (Emmy and Tony nominee Pablo Schreiber), "Boon" (Krasinski's "Office" mate David Denham), and "Tig" (Dominic Fumusa of "Nurse Jackie"). They are the hired help for a covert CIA facility headed by a polo-shirt-wearing pencil-pusher station chief (David Costabile of "Lincoln"). Several establishing scenes of close calls and security risks on the job set up the historic events of September 11, 2012.
Militants, rising from turf war power struggles and powered by seized caches of weapons left over from the 2011 fall of Muammar Gaddafi, use the distraction 9/11 anniversary to attack the temporary diplomatic outpost housing U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens (Matt Letscher from "Her"). The ambassador's limited security detail is quickly overrun forcing Stevens to take shelter in the compound's safe room. The insurgents set fire to the facility with Stevens trapped inside while Tyrone and his team look on helplessly from the CIA Annex only a mile away.
The CIA fears that using Tyrone's team exposes their supposedly off-the-books facility to the same potential attackers. The closest official help, in the form of Glen Doherty's (former Bond villain Toby Stephens) Global Response Staff, is hours away in Tripoli. Tyrone and his boys push aside orders and move to intervene. The film then follows their arduous rescue and defense efforts against insurmountable odds to protect and evacuate U.S. and CIA personnel from the city.
As history shows, the attacks (spoiler alert for those uninformed of past current events) would go on to cost the lives of Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. From a depiction standpoint, Michael Bay's film is borderline gratuitously Pro-American and nonobjective. The attackers are nameless, faceless, and directionless ethnic cut-outs solely meant for body count purposes and slow-motion splatter effect shots. When their deaths are finally addressed during the movie's coda montage, it feels like a fake "Oh, so now you care" moment. The Libyans are juxtaposed against our beefy American commandos with perfect muscles and teeth who are never wrong and painted with a heavy and sticky coat of hero worship. They utter more "brother" nods, yells, and labels than a Hulk Hogan wrestling promo. Worse, their heavily-scripted (via "The Town" screenwriter Chuck Hogan) attempts to wax poetic and inject emotional reflection ring incredibly hollow.
Compelling accuracy, and even class and good taste, take a large backseat to his brand of puffed-up patriotism and overindulgent filmmaking. In true Michael Bay fashion, there are no less than eight intentional shots of an American flag, including the film's final image. There is no artistic originality present. His J.J. Abrams-level lens flares, signature spinning shots steered by Oscar-winning cinematographer Dion Beebe, feverish penchant for explosions, and "Bayhem" edits don't let up. The grating Lorne Balfe (a Hans Zimmer disciple) musical score portends every peak and valley with predictable obviousness equal to a cheap horror film. Once he throws in an homage to his bomb POV shot from "Pearl Harbor" (The 1:26 mark of the trailer) and a waning Chris Cornell original song over the end credits at the end of 144 excessive minutes, you're checked out. It's all too much and less would be so much more.
LESSON #1: WE STILL DON'T KNOW WHAT REALLY HAPPENED IN BENGHAZI-- The Benghazi debacle has been politically charged since Day 1 and remains an election year talking point today. There is an empowered need for a film to judge and debate the Benghazi attacks for what really happened. There is untapped potential to convey a purposeful message, right or wrong, with a sharp edge of honesty and realism. "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi" blows that golden opportunity and lights the dynamite instead.
LESSON #2: WE DO KNOW CURRENT AND FORMER AMERICAN SOLDIERS HAVE IMMEASURABLE COURAGE-- That statement could almost sarcastically end with the tag "especially in the movies," but that would devalue the real lives lost. The film is excessive, but there was legitimate heroism and courage in Libya during those two days. Call them soldiers or "operators," strong men acted with duty and took up arms to protect and save innocent and American lives with no thought of their own. Unlike the surrounding politics, those facts cannot be discounted or disputed.