13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
Directed by Michael Bay
Starring: John Krasinski, Pablo Schreiber,
James Badge Dale
Rated R for strong combat violence throughout, bloody images, and language.
2 hr. 24 min.
Even the most objective person would have cast a jaundiced eye at the sight of the first trailer for 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. The loss of four Americans, including the ambassador to Libya, has been a political hot potato since the day it happened. Millions have been spent on congressional investigations that yielded months of testimony and hundreds of cable news talking points. Director Michael Bay’s movie, then, during this most mercurial of presidential election cycles, would be potentially explosive, right?
Well, right and wrong.
The explosiveness is all onscreen, and there’s plenty of it. Anyone salivating at the prospect of propagandizing this film will be sorely disappointed. Bay (Transformers, Armageddon) presents the action, the violence, the fear and the facts with few frills and back stories. Charles Hogan adapted the screenplay from a memoir by the six ex-military, private security operators who, for 13 hours on Sept. 11-12, 2012, defended a clandestine CIA station in Benghazi, Libya. Armed dissidents raided and torched the temporary American diplomatic outpost, resulting in the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others. Then they set their sights on the station no one was supposed to know was in operation.
As the film follows the hourly timeline of events, the creeping terror builds from knowing what’s going to transpire. In addition to that, there is a creep in the story who stands somewhere between the heroes and the enemy as an antagonist: CIA chief Bob (David Costabile), who rules his turf like an austere maitre’d, sardonic and tyrannical. By his dictate, with jaw set and eyes narrowing, permission to execute a mission that might rescue the ambassador is delayed. Every action feature needs someone to despise. Bob fills that role in 13 Hours.
The six secret soldiers are lead by Jack Silva (John Krasinski) and Tyrone “Rone” Woods (James Badge Dale), bearded and bad-assed, fighting like hell in what Silva says is, “. . . a place you don’t need to be, in a battle you don’t understand.” To which Rone answers, “Warriors aren’t trained to retire.”
That’s as well as we get to know these men, outside of their valor in a bloody firefight, under horrific circumstances, against an undetermined foe. Bay’s trademark cuts and the constant barrage of bullets and ordnance literally batter the senses. Grim details of this story, in the phrase made famous by the late Rod Serling, are compellingly “submitted for your approval.” Throughout, as two of the six, Krasinski and David Denman, Jim and Roy from TV’s The Office, give performances made even more satisfying for knowing their sitcom past. Particularly for Krasinski, the polarity is remarkable, the work excellent.
13 Hours leaves questions hanging in the air, however. Why did the CIA chief delay the rescue attempt, and how did a plea for air support from a besieged CIA operative go unanswered? Mysteries still as baffling today as when the tense, searing struggle took place.
Benghazi was both a tragedy and a miracle, fraught with grit and a stirring will to survive — what one of the six secret soldiers compares to the “friggin’ Alamo.” The movie focuses centrally on this narrative, with little deviation, but that’s enough. Enough to know that however the raid has been exploited politically, great courage was displayed in the face of chaos. We can be grateful to these six men that there was no further loss of American lives. If documenting this through realism and gore, with an apolitical vision, was Michael Bay’s sole mission as a film maker, he has succeeded in that, if not more.