ReelBob: ’13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’
By Bob Bloom
Movies about men under siege seem to strike a responsive chord in filmgoers.
Whether it’s “The Alamo,” “Lone Survivor” or “Blackhawk Down,” something visceral occurs when viewing people giving their all to defend what they believe in against overwhelming odds.
That same emotion rings true in “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” directed by Michael Bay.
Yes, the same Michael Bay who has foisted the “Transformer” movies and “Pearl Harbor” upon us. But this also is the Michael Bay who delivered “The Rock” and “Armageddon.”
This latter Bay is the one behind the camera for this story, based on the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in which Islamic militants killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and others.
Bay, working from a script by Mitchell Zuckoff and Chuck Hogan, based on Zuckoff’s book, “13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi,” creates a compelling drama about men doing their duty without resorting to the clichéd machismo flourishes and false bravado associated with such features.
The private contractors, mostly former SEALs or other military personnel, perform their duty with professionalism and self-confidence, knowing that they are putting their lives on the line.
Their main concerns are having each other’s backs and returning home safely to their families.
These men not only are outnumbered and outgunned, but must contend with a language barrier and the difficulty of discerning friendly Libyans from those wanting to kill them.
Compounding their problems are the unfounded arrogance of the local CIA contingent and the bureaucracy of the U.S. government and its military, especially in rapidly deploying much needed assistance.
Throughout the film, Bay seems to display anger and frustration with an antiquated U.S. foreign policy that fails to realize that the old ways of operating do not apply in a changing world rife with religious and national radicalism.
The movie features strong performances from its mostly male cast, headed by James Badge Dale, John Krasinski, Max Martini, Pablo Schreiber, David Denman and Dominic Fumusa.
“13 Hours” also does not fall into the trap of portraying the Libyan people as one-dimensional fanatics. Some help the Americans, others fight them, while still others just sit at home and watch soccer, living their lives and ignoring the mayhem surrounding them.
After the battle, Bay shows Libyan women and children searching among the dead for loved ones and mourning when they find husbands, fathers and brothers — reminding us that though these men were ruthless adversaries, they also were human beings fighting for their beliefs, as misguided as we believe they are.
“13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” at 144 minutes, moves quickly, building tension from the outset, as the stifling heat seems to slowly brew a deadly outburst that finally erupts on the anniversary of that mournful day in 2001.
“13 Hours” is more than a testament to a small group of courageous men who took a stand. It also wags a finger at those in power who created the situation that led to this fatal tragedy.
Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and The Film Yap (filmyap.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Other reviews by Bloom can be found at Rottentomatoes: www.rottentomatoes.com.
13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI
3½ stars out of 4
(R), graphic and bloody violence, language