My Rating: 6 out of 10
When I first heard that Michael Bay was directing a movie about Benghazi that would be released right in the thick of the 2016 election cycle, I have to admit I didn’t know what to make of it. I certainly didn’t think he would make light of the subject matter by likening the tragedy to a transformers story, nor did I think he would try to create a heavily politicized film based on the event. I ended up being right on both counts, but the final product is an odd film that lies somewhere between The Lone Survivor and No Escape. It is not bad per say, but it certainly isn’t great.
For those of you unfamiliar with the plot of 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, the movie tells the story of the events leading up to the 9/11/12 terrorist attacks on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. The main characters were six security team members that worked under the supervision of the CIA, but were at odds with the higher ups for differences in their approach to safety that were frankly a bit political. The chief of the base is overly concerned with the appearance of their base and doesn’t want any issues before his retirement, thus he allows things to get more dangerous than necessary.
I was pretty impressed by the seriousness of the subject matter from Michael Bay, who usually writes films for teenagers instead of adults. Though, with that said, he wasn’t completely able to step away from his tendencies and injected some sensationalistic moments into the film that took away from the greater point it made about the heroic actions of these six men. Furthermore, the characters really weren’t fleshed out as much as they were in films like The Lone Survivor and American Sniper. I couldn’t really connect to any of them and frankly had some trouble distinguishing them from one another. This made it harder to be invested in the characters, which disappointing since this story was based on an actual tragedy where these individuals risked their actual lives.
The movie was obviously leading up to the final battle to protect the compound and because the audience knew this going into the movie, I figured Michael Bay would create extra tension in order to keep things interesting. But sadly, this was not the case and all the tension came from awaiting what we already knew was on the way. The final battle then focused less on the heroics of the men than on the intensity of the violence. It almost glorified the fight, when it seemed as though the point was that the men wanted to make it back home to their families. While the first three-quarters of the film were pretty tame, the final quarter was brutally intense and had some real gut-wrenching violence that was a little too over-the-top and disturbing.
I had hoped to see more of a focus on the political side of things. By that, I don’t mean the involvement of Hillary Clinton necessarily, but the reason for the animosity between the security team and the CIA and other nuanced issues that aren’t explored in depth. Unlike Zero Dark Thirty, which really gets into the whole political backstory of the raid on Bin Laden’s compound, 13 Hours seems to take the easy way out and utilizes information that is well known to everyone who follows politics and the news to move the plot along. The situations depicted in the film are treated as black and white, which makes the overall plot feel less realistic. At the very least it would have been nice to see scenes of the men outside of a combat zone to see how fighting has taken a toll on them as individuals.
Overall, I don’t really recommend taking the time to see 13 Hours in theaters. It’s not a bad film and definitely is a new kind of project for Michael Bay, but overall it falls short of many other great recent films about the battles in the Middle East.