If you’re expecting Michael Bay’s “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” to be this year’s ooh-rah version of “American Sniper” or “Lone Survivor,” you’re in for a rude awakening. For this is no spirited Oscar contender. It’s more on par with “Pearl Harbor,” Bay’s day of infamy that turned one of America’s worst defeats into one of America’s worst movies.
He’s at it again with “13 Hours,” his racist, jingoistic quagmire about the death of four Americans – and possibly Hillary Clinton’s political career – at the hands of a 100 or so al-Qaeda-connected insurgents, who attacked a pair of CIA outposts in Libya on the night of Sept. 11, 2012.
Satiating all his worst instincts, Bay renders his simplistic re-enactments with all the verve of one of his mindless “Transformer” movies. It’s all action and macho posturing, with guns and mortars doing the talking, and nameless, faceless Muslims doing almost all the dying.
Of course, it would be expecting too much from Bay to maybe give us an inkling as to why these rebels had it out for the Americans, but that would get in the way of his Donald Trump-pleasing slaughter of dozens upon dozens of “others.”
But even sadder is how Bay and screenwriter Chuck Hogan (“The Town”) dishonor the heroics of a half-dozen CIA security contractors, who fought tooth and nail to save the people they were hired to protect. Two of them – Tyrone Woods (James Badge Dale) and Worcester’s Glen Doherty (Toby Stephens) – lost their lives doing so. But who were these men, what drove them to make the ultimate sacrifice? The movie just doesn’t care because it’s all about the killing.
Having not read the accounts of that night’s events, as told to Newton author Mitchell Zuckoff by the survivors, I can’t vouch for the book having given these men more of a backlife, but I’m certain Bay’s movie doesn’t give them any.
About all we learn about them is that they like to talk tough and they miss their families. In fact, the only human moments are when the men stare at photos of their kin or try to talk with them via cellphone and Skype. But, those precious few moments are presented more as a means to fill time between assaults on the CIA compound then actual attempts to discover their psyches.
Worse, we learn absolutely nothing about ambassador Chris Stevens (Mark Letscher) and his assistant, Sean Smith (Christopher Dingli), who both also lost their lives that night. Like everyone else, they’re just basically corpses to step over on the way to killing the next insurgent.
Leading the charge is the movie’s only bonafide star, Newton’s John Krasinski, who does little to flesh out former special-ops soldier Jack Silva, whose facial hair is his most fascinating trait. The other members of the crew – Kris Paronto (Pablo Schreiber), Dave Benton (Krasinski’s former “Office” co-star David Denman) and Mark Geist (Max Martini) – are given even less to do.
With their heavy beards and fatigues, it’s often hard to tell one from the other, largely due to the serious lack of character development. It’s even worse when the bullets start flying. Typical of Bay’s hyper filmmaking style, there are so many quick cuts, it’s impossible to comprehend who’s shooting whom. What’s clear, is Bay’s desire to bask in the glory of the American flag and cheer the death of every person with an Arabic accent.
Despite what Bay and Krasinski have been saying as they make the rounds promoting “13 Hours,” the movie IS political, overtly so. On numerous occasions the men are heard complaining why the State Department isn’t sending in planes or reinforcements to help. If those aren’t digs at Clinton, I don’t know what is. Also, somewhat glossed over is the reason Americans are even in Benghazi. We’re told it’s to keep Gaddafi’s huge arsenal of weapons from getting into the hands of terrorists, but several reports have suggested the real reason was to facilitate the shipment of those weapons from Libya to U.S.-backed insurgents in Syria.
But whatever the reason, it doesn’t diminish the sacrifices of those who died. The men fought bravely, as the film’s intense action scenes prove. Bay may not be much of an artist, but he sure knows how to blow things up good. And in that department, there’s no letdown. The action is intensely real, and the danger palpable. But the movie is ultimately empty. It wants to make heroes out of these men for their actions. But true heroism comes from within. And, it’s a place “13 Hours,” with all it’s patriotic bluster, never allows us to enter.
13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI
Cast includes: John Krasinski, Pablo Schreiber, James Badge Dale, David Costabile, Toby Stephens and Max Martini.
(Rated R for strong combat violence throughout, bloody images and language)