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13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016)
Movie Reviews

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016)

An action-packed thriller for the Call of Duty crowd that works best when keeping its politics at bay.

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It seems that every time a new Michael Bay movie makes its way into theaters, I subsequently roll my eyes, especially one that released in the dump-month in January. For those that are unaware, this is the time when Hollywood usually unloads all the residual trash from the previous year deemed as ‘not fit for wide release’ as a transitional and cleansing period before quickly heading back into the more lucrative summer and holiday schedules

Bay’s latest effort, saddled with the hilariously comic-book-sounding subtitle, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, manages to be an entertaining action-packed thriller, and is exactly the type of film one would expect from the director of Transformers, Pearl Harbor, and so many other brainless blockbusters.

Using Mitchell Zuckoff’s true story book as a starting point, 13 Hours attempts to present what has become one of the most controversial moments in modern political and military history in an action-packed thriller. With a cast full television actors that includes John Krasinski and David Denman (both from The Office), Pablo Schreiber (Orange is the New Black), and David Costabile (Breaking Bad), the film takes us to war-ridden Libya where a group of contracted CIA operatives make home in a volatile country amidst a transitionary political quagmire, where politicos and extremists fight for sole possession of their nation.

Of course, the Americans presence isn’t something that goes overlooked, and on the historically significant day of September 11th, 2012, the U.S. Ambassador compound is attacked by a group of militants, forcing the protagonists into a dire situation of violence and forced survival.

I can’t recall ever going to a Michael Bay movie expecting to be moved by profound characters – at least I have learned that from Bay’s work. As hard as it might be to believe, this a film that could have done with less forced characterization and more bang-bang. There’s so much sentimentality in the first half one could easily mistake it with a straightforward war drama, and not the action movie it is supposed to be.

There is no real balance interspersed within the film: on one side it’s a war drama, dragging the mood down with it’s pointless empathy, and an action bonanza on the other, full of heart-thumping thrills. I understand one needs to relate and feel for the characters, who are in a life or death situation in the most dangerous of scenarios, but when you throw them into the fire for the sake of action, it almost feels unnecessary.

Part of the film’s dramatization and characterization gives way to incidental politics, which given the situation and political climate, would have been impossible to avoid the political question of Libya and American involvement. But when approached in the manner exhibited here, in a naive “Us versus Them” ideological thought process, it comes off just as careless. Bay uses Libya as a playground for audiences, riding on the recent wave of Islamophobia, to pick apart insurgents for the pleasure of American audiences.

The film isn’t out to politically entice or inform, though Bay may actually think he is doing so. His film is a ridiculous attempt to perpetuate a quasi-conservative warmongering agenda, whatever political allusions exist merely to add the necessary politicization this type of film requires. That said, 13 Hours doesn’t fall under a harsher criteria for critique as say, American Sniper, a much more sophisticated film with questionable politics, would. That same criteria doesn’t apply to Michael Bay simply because he isn’t that type of director, and if his attempt at politicizing anything in this film, or any other film is apparent, it’s because such things are expected in these American intervention war movies.

The veil for this movie is too thin, as you can see past faux-characterization and politics. Early in I asked myself: where’s the action? But when it finally comes, it does in full-force, and with every reminder why we keep going to see Michael Bay movies. If nothing else, he’s the master of blowing stuff up in thrilling and entertaining ways, and the action scenes are handled incredibly well. To expect political correctness (despite my tirade) in 13 Hours would be a mistake as this isn’t that kind of film; at its heart lay an action thriller and nothing more. He can do worse, and this one really isn’t that bad, even if the title makes it sound like it belongs in a Transformers movie.

Politics aside, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is an action-packed thriller for the Call of Duty crowd, and fans of the game series will find much to love in the instantaneous gratification provided here. Things blow-up, baddies die, and while it’s easy to blame Bay for his callousness in adopting a true story as the basis for an action blockbuster and his disregard for nuanced filmmaking, he manages to channel the unintentionally comic violence I admire from Reagan-era action films like Commando.

About the Author: J. Carlos Menjivar