Contemporary Review / Review

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

by Justin MadoreBenghazi1Well, it’s January again, so I’m not sure why I expected anything walking into 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. Admittedly, the fact that it’s being praised as one of the best films of director Michael Bay’s career piqued my interest, with said praise equating it as some sort of renaissance for a filmmaker who has rarely made anything above adequate. I guess that’s what happens when you consistently make such shit; when you eventually produce something even halfway decent, people act impressed. Don’t let these impressed people fool you. You shouldn’t get your hopes up for 13 Hours. In fact, don’t even acknowledge its existence. See Star Wars: The Force Awakens again. See The Revenant again. Hey, maybe even try your luck with Ride Along 2. At least that has the potential to make you laugh (and not in a bad way).

Aside from the critical hype, another reason I was semi-interested in this truly bad action flick was the casting of John Krasinski in a lead role, who’s been notably absent from the spotlight since The Office ended back in 2013. Funnily enough, it turns out to be a little Office reunion, with David Denman playing another one of our mustachioed protagonists. Along with four other actors, they play the private contractors who defended a U.S. ambassador from waves of terrorists back on September 11, 2012. If you’re looking for more information, I can’t give it to you and neither can 13 Hours. The script does a horrendous job of explaining why things are happening to our characters. Government executives yell at each other briefly about the status of the situation every once in awhile, but beyond that, you’ll have to do your own reading to learn more about Benghazi. What I can give the movie credit for is avoiding a political leaning. No matter what side you align with, 13 Hours doesn’t mention Democrats or Republicans, instead focusing on its characters’ fight for survival.

The movie makes an effort to flesh out our protagonists, but their development is weak and mishandled. As private military contractors, each of our characters are tall and muscular. They all have beards. They all have pictures of their families back home. And we’re told they’re all perfect husbands. In short, they’re all basically the same character, and 20 minutes in, I had to start asking my friend to clarify which character was which. It all fits into a common thread of a lack of visual clarity. You can’t tell the characters apart, and often times you can’t tell their locations apart either, which is a problem I can’t recall ever witnessing in a film before. For a movie that takes place in such a confined area, I was truly surprised how often I said to myself, “Wait, I thought the characters were over there!” The constant shaky cam and quick cuts don’t help this either, although I suppose they do contribute to the tension once the bullets start flying.

For all of his faults as a director, if there’s one thing Michael Bay is good at, it’s action, and 13 Hours doesn’t completely disappoint on that front. Before everyone opens fire, he does spend some time building tension, which is effective enough for the ferocious firefights full of bullets, explosions, and shredded body parts. Things get seriously brutal, especially in a scene in which someone is literally blown apart with a mounted machine gun. However, even in Bay’s hands, the action gets numbing, and then, boring. He plays all his cards in the first 90 minutes, and the film really drags in the second half, as he struggles to up the ante with each new wave of enemies that attacks the compound our protagonists are defending. The film goes on way too long, and he winds up looking like a comedian who booked an hour gig with only 30 minutes of material. Instead of improvising, he just retreads the same material.

As a film fan, I smelled blood when I first saw the trailer for 13 Hours. Michael Bay, king of the popcorn movie, directing a film about a recent politicized tragedy? The reality of the film’s nature isn’t astounding, but it is disappointing. It’s not about politics, it’s not about what Benghazi meant for international affairs, it’s just about dude-bros shooting terrorists in another country. The result is just another film devoid of meaning that a casual crowd will use to kill time on a lazy afternoon. Somewhere out there in the future, a poignant story about the Benghazi attack exists, but 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi isn’t it.

1.5 out of 5 stars

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