Review: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
Following in the vein of his previous effort Pain & Gain, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is a step up for Michael Bay from the Transformers franchise and the execrable Pearl Harbor. That being said, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is incredibly biased, and mostly unnecessarily so. If Michael Bay (and screenwriter Chuck Hogan), working from a book from Mitchell Zuckoff, wanted to tell a similar story that happened to be entirely fictional, it perhaps would have been more palatable. But because Michael Bay hews towards telling an apolitical tale, with no mention of Hillary Clinton or the aftermath of the Benghazi incident, the film comes off as less of an investigation and more of a celebration.
The difficult balance of Pain & Gain is that it exalted the gym rats that it featured, but also skewered them for daring to exaggerate and misrepresent the American Dream. In 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, we have only heroes, and hardly very interesting ones at that, spotlighted by John Krasinski, playing against type as a bearded and buff soldier named Jack Silva. Silva, along with Tyrone S. Woods (James Badge Dale) are in the wrong place at the wrong time (Benghazi, Libya, which is played by Malta in the film). They are clearly up against the authority, which in the film is embodied by David Constible, who does not even have a name, as he is called “The Chief”.
Constible, perhaps best known as Gale from Breaking Bad, (or perhaps as Daniel Hardman from Suits), seems an odd choice as a nominal early villain in the film, as the actor has charm to spare and easily embodies shades of grey, rather than the black and white necessary for a film of this type. Luckily, The Chief is quickly dispensed for the actual villains of the film, “the bad guys”, who are played by the Libyan rebels who attack the compound which Silva, Woods and four other contractors happened to be stationed on September 11th, 2012 (and this date is significant in the film).
After the ambassador is killed, the second half of the film essentially plays as an armed Alamo standoff between Silva, Woods, Tig, (Dominic Fumusa), Boon (David Denman), Bub (Toby Stephens, son of Dame Maggie Smith) and Tanto (Pablo Scheiber, definitely playing a different character than Pornstache from OITNB). Only Tanto truly registers as a character and this is because he is allowed to register an emotion other than steely-eyed goodness, (sarcasm, mainly). The soldiers are to a man hirstute and burly, clearly all cut from the same cloth. The scenes of battle are fairly well-presented (though the typical Michael Bay flourishes are entirely unnecessary—lens flares, odd angles and a desecrated American flag belabour the points that War is Hell).
At one point, Bub reads from a book of wisdom (Joseph Campbell? Buddhism?) which suggests that the fight comes from within, and Bay seems to take this idea and run with it throughout the film.
In essence, 13 Hours presents its case effectively, though the exaltation at the start of the film that “This is a True Story” and then proceeds to show one side of the story borders on dangerous and irresponsible. Better to have let the secret out and then to explore certain levels of responsibility and values. And above all, at 144 minutes, the film starts to feel like 13 some Hours. Best to get in and get out.