Adapted from Mitchell Zuckoff’s 2014 book 13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi, with a script written by Chuck Hogan (with the surviving members of the Annex Security Team in Benghazi), 13 Hours is a firsthand account of the deadly real-life ambush on U.S. forces which occurred on the evening of the eleventh anniversary on the September 11th attacks when a group of Islamic militants attacked the American diplomatic compound and a nearby CIA Annex in Benghazi, Libya. It was on this day when CIA security contractors and military veterans were the only line of defense for the American Ambassador and his staff within the compound.
Often referred to as the “Battle of Benghazi,” the event was a clusterfuck of epic proportions which resulted in the deaths of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, U.S. Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith, and CIA contractors Tyrone S. Woods and Glen Doherty. Soon to follow were numerous unanswered questions, investigations where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton subsequently took responsibility for the catastrophe that could have been avoided if only the U.S. government answered their pleas for helps.
Not wasting any time, Bay opens the film during chaos and confusion, after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi where tensions are high and panic attacks widespread across the battling city. There are narrow roads controlled by men carrying guns, children play in tanks, and men crowd around a small television set to watch soccer as gunfire erupts nearby. “Welcome to Benghazi” is delivered with the same overdramatic passion as Will Smith’s Independence Day, “Welcome to Earth.” The camera jolts from left to right with smash-cuts and enough shaking to make your head spin. Why this is needed, who knows? Bay, who isn’t that skilled of a director figures if he causes audience members to become dizzy enough, maybe they’ll never notice his ineptness. Unfortunately this is only the beginning, Bay has more in store.
Angry with saturation and overuse of colors, the visualizations screams, “I am man hear me roar.” Within seconds there’s a standoff as men (two Americans and a Libyan militia) engage in a stare-down, trying to prove to each other who has a larger set of testicular fortitude. Everything about this movie screams exhaustive masculine tension, despite no one needing to question it.
In this war version of Bad Boys, Jack Silva (John Krasinski) and Tyrone “Rone” Woods (James Badger Dale), are private security contractors who have been assigned to the CIA’s Global Response Staff to protect U.S. intelligence operatives and diplomats in rubble city. They are joined by Mark “Oz” Geist (Max Martini), Kris “Tanto” Paronto (Pablo Schreiber), John “Tig” Tiegen (Dominic Fumusa) and Dave “Boon” Benton (David Denman), all whose background is limited aside from the spattering of conversations sprinkled throughout the movie.
The movie quickly highlights the tough decisions that landed them in this unforsaken part of the world but gives the most screen time to Krasinski and Dale for they hold together the film the most. In an attempt to make the audience care about these characters for no given reason whatsoever aside from the pure hell they’re about to experience, the characters’ backstories are summed up in cheap flashbacks or by conversations with their families back at home. The sound of children’s laughter is meant to manifest a hurried sense of attachment as the writer tries to prove that just because these men are natural born soldiers, lauded for the unflinching skills and quick thinking strategy, they are also human.
…And just like that, everything changes.
Without any warning, everyone is under attack and no one is safe, not even the audience. Invoking the Ghost of Pearl Habor’s Past, Bay uses the same detached single shot scene of a falling rocket landing on its target, as the men come under attack in a series of bullet raging heart pound scenes that never ends. Whatever goodness that was once rooted this film is gone, lost in the hail fire, as Bay rapes your eyes, ears and emotions with flash bangs, grenades and an assault as men storm the compound, burning it to the ground. It is here where things take a turn for the unbelievable. There are car chases that magical survive fire/bullet/rocket assaults that would leave Megatron and Bumblebee scratching their heads.
Action flows at rapid speeds and the audience has no idea who’s who or who to even root for. As your senses are over-simulated, your mind starts to shut down, much like this movie that replaces thought with action. There’s no direction or storyline to the script. Politics are stripped away, this movie is about soldiers doing what they do best: protecting their own with guns… big guns. As you try to make sense of everything minus the politics, it becomes frustrating as you watch people begging for help that never comes, thanks to political red tape…. at least that’s what’s assumed since politics is never outright mentioned.
However, Bay is not known for movies that requires you to think, and as a result, 13 Hours becomes his playground, taking creative license of the events. The fight moves to the CIA compound where the movie makes its final transformation into the Alamo. If a car surviving multiple bombs were questionable, get ready for scenes where enemies climb over walls reminiscent of the infamous zombie scene in World War Z. Action takes place at any time from any place and when the audience is given a break, there is truly no rest for the silence is tense and haunting; you’re trapped inside a horror movie as the feeling of death drapes over you. It is here where Bay throws everything at the screen, all hope is lost, no one’s coming to rescue them and by the end of the film, your emotions are so racked with confusion an opiate will be needed.
13 Hours drains the soul that leaves the audience dripping with exhausting; distraught by the experience. While it’s not a movie that will create immediate change or is even a story that’s needed to be told (compared to other war stories) it will create conversation. For the material that was given, Bay did a great job capturing what it feels like to be a solider.
The cast is faultless as they do the best they can with a bare-bones script. Lines, while over-dramatic and clichéd, are delivered with heart. Krasinski, the anchor of the movie, balances between hardened solider and family man. Swearing this is his last mission (he’s served 12 tours) he just wants to live long enough to actually see his daughters again.
Peyman Moaadi, a Libyan aide trapped in this horrific nightmare is a gem, accidently providing the most much needed laughs as a translator who just wants to go home. While French actress Alexia Barlier plays a CIA operative whose chief narrative purpose is set up meetings with her marks and remind everyone how much these soldiers need to protect her.
Unfortunately, the downfall of the movie lies within the writing. The script is weak and does not show nor support the notion that war is complicated. Summing up its complications in a 30-second scene of Middle Eastern females crying over their dead is insulting. 13 Hours would have had an impact if there was a screenwriter who could grasp the understanding and meaning of politics, even if it’s offensive. To completely skip over this and not even have the courage to put a human face on the enemy makes this film less human and our emotions less memorable.
Bay, clearly not perfect, did his best, despite making a Michael Bay film. While it’s not the movie we deserve, it’s the best of what we’re going to get from Bay.