Movie Review: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

TRIGGER WARNING

When discussing an issue political in nature, divisive does not even begin to describe the opinions of those involved. There will always be multiple sides to an argument that disagree like an orgy of snakes eating each other’s tails. On the matter of the 2012 Benghazi Attack, you have the die-hard Clinton supporters that take everything she says as gospel, and the other side uses the attack and controversial aftermath to criticize her.

Both sides have their merits and as an Anarcho-Capitalist that leans either way of the American political spectrum, I understand where they are coming from. As Secretary of State at the time, Clinton was responsible for installing an ambassador to a hostile region and I commend her for taking the brunt of the blame. Where I stand is the complete opposite. I am not a fan of Clinton by any means because of her nonchalant dismissal of the 2nd Amendment, but I am not opposed to her on any other front. My stance on Benghazi is one people seem to ignore amongst the political upheaval.

How, in fuck, do the words “obvious” and “out in the open” apply to a Blacksite? I know the CIA annex was not technically a Blacksite, but it was sure treated as such, and if you are in the business of intelligence gathering, you must have a set-up to avoid domestic suspicion. It is peace of mind, a safe place to analyze data, and the annex was the most exploitative target any would-be terrorist could ask for. They did not do a good job of hiding it and the CIA usually operates everywhere, no matter how dangerous, in deep cover. And in their stupidity, they sacrificed four Americans to keep their not-so-inconspicuous presence in Libya a secret. Fuck you guys, from the bottom of my heart.

That is the part of the story a lot of people do not consider: the battle between a handful of operators and the attackers they buried full of bullets. Those guys matter the most. They did not care about a low profile or their jobs when they charged in to save Ambassador Stevens because they swore to defend their country and its people. Clinton and the politics mean nothing considering what these guys did. 13 Hours presents an opportunity to see what went on that fateful night from the perspective of the heroes that survived it. Unfortunately, Michael Bay’s name is on it.

Usually I put an obligatory plot summary here, but I already covered what this movie is about in the last four paragraphs. Moving on.

I am one of the many critics that do not like Bay as a director. As a person, he seems okay despite being a California native. He appreciates the military and America, goes for authenticity when depicting branches of the Armed Forces, and has a pretty good eye for shooting action. My problem lies in what a lot of audiences do not notice and why he is such a box-office draw. His defining characteristic is excess. Big explosions, mass destruction, ultra-violence, and beauty shots of women are pushed to the extreme in chaotic mixtures of 100+ million dollar budgets. He is a 80s action schlock director in the 21st century and he knows what people want. The issue is the intent I feel when I see his movies, especially the Transformers films. At the risk of making this review longer than it should, here is a very graphic analogy of what I mean:

Imagine an amateur pornstar as the audience and her dude-bro male costar as Bay. The amateur has high hopes this shoot will help jumpstart her burgeoning career. All she has to do is let the dude-bro jerk-off onto her face for the money shot. What she does not know is he has syphilis and he is intentionally spreading it as a hazing ritual for new girls. She does not know what is coming, but she is willing to do it for her career. The amateur also has thing for that kind of action and she figures if it gets her ahead in the business, why not enjoy it? The dude-bro is also having fun spreading a communicable disease for laughs.

Watching a Michael Bay movie is the cinematic equivalent of condescension. He knows his audience is made up of mouth-breathing idiots that will eat any kind of shit if it tastes good. These people exist: they were in my theater watching Agent 47, and Bay gives them all the best flavors. Terrible special effects, bad story, worthless characters, mass destruction, and everything he knows his people like as he collects tribute in ticket sales, a typical ploy of corporate Hollywood. The man has good qualities and this is definitely not one of them. I may hate people that like bad movies, but I do not stoop so slow as to exploit and manipulate them. It is like pushing a paraplegic down a flight stairs or beating up the mentally handicapped.

Thankfully, 13 Hours is an entirely different kind of Bay. Gone is the excess and debauchery, replaced by a tempered vision brought to fruition with a grounded approach that treats the subject matter with respect. The depiction of violence is still vivid and disturbingly beautiful, but it does not take that extra step into gratuity. People are torn to shreds by 50 caliber guns while dust and debris blasts off the environment with every explosion and shot. It feels authentic and restrained, a word I would never associate with Michael Bay.

The movie has a lot in common with Black Hawk Down in how it portrays the battle as a matter-of-fact. It presents the event as it happened in a plain light. It is pragmatic and concerned about showing you, rather than impressing you. Even the more strange moments feel like they belong in a country that has been tearing itself apart for years. 13 Hours becomes surreal and sentimental in parts before dragging you back into reality as characters fend off attacks and beg for help that never comes.

That being said, a good portion of the movie is a mess. There is a continuity error where a character was holding something in one shot then nothing after a cut. Some of the sweeping shots of terrorists dying will show terrorists that were already killed in a previous shot, but at different angel. The editing in general was disjointed. At some points Bay leans a little too hard on his propagandist trappings when characters talk about their families. Some of his signatures are present with caricatures like the clumsy translator and two brothers with chrome AKs. 13 Hours is also a slow burn of 144 minutes. The beginning could have been reintegrated where we learn about characters, politics, and the situation before the battle starts.

The performances were quite standard as most of the characters are grizzled professionals with years of experience between them. Strangely enough, the actors did a good job of making them stand out. You get a small feel for who they are and after a while they become easy to distinguish. For me it was Max Martini as Mark Geist, this daunting figure that does virtually nothing in the story, but has a presence that makes him unique. Or maybe it was just me. John Krasiniski did well as the main character Jack Silva… and that is about it. Everyone was serviceable for who they had to be and it worked.

I spent a good 2/3rds of this post talking about stuff other than the actual film. Bottom-line, 13 Hours is a good movie that has a goal and accomplishes it in a way that feels genuine for the intent. It does not do much of anything else to be honest, but I still like it and when a movie is good, my reviews tend to be short. That says a lot for a January film. Go see it.

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