TV / Movie Reviews

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: War Drama/ Stars: John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Max Martini, Dominic Fumusa, Pablo Schreiber, David Denman, Toby Stephens, Alexia Barlier, Freddie Stroma, David Costabile, Shane Rowe, Gábor Bodis, Matt Letscher, David Giuntoli, Demetrius Grosse, David Furr, Davide Tucci, Wrenn Schmidt, Peyman Moaadi, Christopher Dingli/ Runtime: 144 minutes

Well…I must confess something to you movie lover: against any and all odds that you may have placed to the contrary, I think I can now say that I have managed to acquire a decent-enough degree of respect toward none other than film helmer Michael Bay (shocking I know). Indeed the long-held in a divisive light film helmer who has become regarded more for making gonzo, action-heavy blockbusters has finally managed to make a slice of cinematic that extends past simply entertaining an audience and actually manages to sculpt a movie of legit weight and realism that at its core focuses on a tragic yet courageous moment from the last 15 years of not only history in the United States, but on a global scale as well. Indeed the slice of cinematic pie that is 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is one which permits Bay to go past not his distinct grandiose sense of scale, but thankfully the narrative void that is a key part of a lot of his other films (I’m looking at you Transformers). Yet with this movie, Bay is able to locate an equilibrium he wasn’t able to before and while he doesn’t entirely omit his distinct way of doing things, especially with the final firefight close to the end, he still does manage to sculpt here a riveting and quite potent film that his style actually complements rather than shanghaies and runs off leaving room for little else to function in.  Thus based on a similarly-titled book by a man named Mitchell Zuckoff and actually trying to tell to the best of its ability the most integrity-filled version of the tale involving what happened that harrowing September night in the chaos of Benghazi, this is one slice of cinematic pie that manages to be an emotional in memoriam to those who bravely fought and laid down their lives, an ode to how potent the War genre of movie magic can be when done right, and a by and large quite impressive cinematic outing that will keep you both engaged and on the edge of your seat in equal measure.

The plot is as follows: 13 Hours takes us back in time to the year 2012 and drops us off in the middle of perhaps one of the possible contenders for Hell on Earth: civil war-torn Libya where we are to follow a man by the name of Jack Ryan ehhh Silva as he quickly reunites with an old buddy from his service days by the name of Tyrone Woods. Silva, we soon learn, has come to Libya because the CIA has a secret outpost that needs security and they’ve been hiring former Special Forces soldiers from the different branches to act as their, for lack of a better phrase, “hired muscle”. We soon learn that Silva’s arrival not only coincides with the 11 year anniversary of 9/11, but also with the arrival of an American ambassador to Libya as well. Things soon take a turn for the nightmarish however when Silva and his rag-tag gung-ho cohorts horrifically witness as men from within the American ambassador’s compound call in to report that they have fallen under attack from a large band of extremists and that they are in desperate need of help. Thus, even when the Station Chief orders them in no uncertain terms to stand down, we soon witness as these 6 men decide to put their skill and lives on the line in order to do no more and no less than what is right and try to keep everyone safe until help is able to come and get them all the heck out of there.

Now it goes without saying, but I suspect that the biggest task that Michael Bay had in front of him whilst making this distinct slice of cinematic pie was trying to figure out how to make sure you, the viewer stayed invested even when taken into account the fact that the ending was already set in stone. I say that because, without spoiling anything, you could easily take to the Internet right now and look up these men and learn their fates without ever having to see the movie at all. With that in mind however, this film is not as much about those intricate details as it is about giving us the chance to experience what these men did, showcase it in rivetingly infuriating clarity, and also highlight how messy this whole affair really was for everyone involved. It is this aspect that Bay is hugely successful in. Indeed not only does he with skill sculpt enough narrative heft to keep you intrigued as to how this is all going to play out, but he also proves to be quite effective in his attempts to keep you involved even if the outcome to this narrative is also known to the point that you are riveted nearly every step of the way. Indeed there’s a genuine and quite terrifying vibe that things are about to get ugly first as the anxiety-stricken anticipation of what is to come envelops the first 45 minutes and then through the following 90 minutes as the tale of the attack comes and eventually comes to a head. Remarkably though, this is all subtly underscored by a simplistic yet riveting showcase of humanity courtesy of some of the guys talking with those they love at home and as the night goes on and they begin to be more and more genuine with their thoughts and feelings.

Indeed if there is a single aspect where this movie could be seen as tripping over its own two feet, it would have to be in how the script sculpts the characters at the heart of this story. This is because not only are our intros to everyone as rapid fire as the guns they use, but as combat begins to get underway the chaos and anarchy of the situation doesn’t always make it obvious where everyone is located and also what they are doing as well. Of course in all fairness the whirlpool of bullets, lightning cuts, and darkened landscapes don’t do that any favors either. It is in this respect that we see that Bay has managed to conjure up a terrific example of what I like to call organized chaos. A term that even the characters themselves would probably approve of especially in the moments where we see them try to determine if groups of armed individuals coming their way are the back-up they’ve requested or another group of insurgents about to rain on their parade even further. Thus, 13 Hours does manage to succeed at conjuring up a pretty decent mist of combat though the question of it is perhaps a bit too effective is one that I could see people debating. Out of everything though, there is one constant that will be on the tip of your tongue for the vast majority of the movie. That being the word “why”. Indeed this singular word is one that casts a giant shadow over the proceedings with particular regard to both the men being told to stand down as well as the failure of those on the ground to get any kind of support and/or reinforcements whatsoever. Indeed that maddening frustration you will feel coursing through your veins is both real and integral to the narrative being told and the fact that Bay is able to expertly blend that frustration into this chaotic story only aids in making sure the film is successful in recreating these events in every way that it sets out to do so.

Now in addition, it should be noted that 13 Hours is also a slice of cinematic pie that is operating with some terrific technical ingredients at its disposal. Indeed this is a film that in that respect is phenomenally well made even if there are still a few distinct Bay touches from his other movies that come to play in this one such as lightning quick cuts, and a few way too extravagant action beats to name but a couple. At the same time however, these touches are not used to the point of overkill or so drenched in Bay’s way of doing things that the film loses its potency or the gravity of what is occurring is undone. Suffice it to say then that this movie is a riveting example of Michael Bay actually managing to keep things level for once whilst also operating as a manner for Bay to stretch and show he can do a movie that is not the kind of movie he is typically known for making. Along with that, as you might imagine, the production value on this film is able to go through the roof and then some. Indeed this slice of cinematic pie comes equipped with a vibe of combat realism that is just as good as some of the better entries in this iconic genre in that not only is it brutal and engaging, but it also gives us a feeling for locale and era down little to the things like the gear the men all utilize, In addition, the performances from the cast in this are all top-notch. Yes the characters themselves, as discussed in the previous paragraph, aren’t as fleshed out as they truly ought to have been given their heroics, but all the key performers in this manage to locate and utilize a genuine edge both in how they act when engaged in combat, but also in the ever growing physical and emotional toll that they go through as the night drags on to their performances to make them work brilliantly.

All in all I think it is safe to say without a doubt in my mind that 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is a slice of cinematic pie that will stay with you for a long time after the screen cuts to black and its credits begin to roll. Indeed this is one film that I feel without a doubt in my mind that is going to be seen and recognized for being an iconic yet modern entry in the War genre of movie magic not just for how astonishingly well done it is on a technical level, but just as crucially, how well it manages to recreate for us a rousing yet also quite infuriating situation in the past 15 years of history. Yes, this slice of cinematic pie doesn’t exactly show any sort of analysis from a political perspective, but when it comes to the position this movie chooses to take it is clear as crystal. Yet perhaps most admirably of all this slice of cinematic pie is an integrity-filled ode to the men who lived and also to those who laid down their lives during that 13 hour nightmare. For that, if nothing else, this is one slice of cinematic pie that deserves to be recognized and remembered.  On a scale of 1-5 I give 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi a solid 4 out of 5.