13 Hours (2016)

October 2, 2016

13 Hours is a surprisingly apolitical film about the 2012 Benghazi attack. I cannot say that I was ever bored by the film, but I cannot say that I totally enjoyed the film either.

The Benghazi attack happened September 11, 2012 and was a coordinated attack on two US locations in Benghazi -- a temporary US consulate and a CIA annex about a mile away from the US consulate. During the attack four US citizens were killed (including the US ambassador).

This film is directed by Michael Bay, and those who know me, know that I have a distaste for Michael Bay films -- there's only one of his films that I truly like, The Rock. The rest of his films are mediocre (Armageddon, The Island) or complete garbage (anything Transformers). I can see how this film is Michael Bay's stab at being his Black Hawk Down (one of the greatest war movies directed by one visionary director, Ridley Scott). Sadly for Bay, this is not anywhere close to being as good as Black Hawk Down, but it is not as bad as his Transformers films either.

First, the good points about the film. Michael Bay dials back his usual rah-rah love of the American military and presents a clearer vision of a battle. Michael Bay is surprisingly restrained in this respect. I guess that's about it.

The film spends the first 45 minutes of its running time trying to introduce us to the operators of the CIA's GRS (Global Response Staff). The problem is that Michael Bay is not very good at this kind of stuff and the only person we really get to know is Jack (played by John Krasinski). The bonding with the characters is done with them quiping at each other; making video conference calls with their families; and them looking longingly at photos of their families. It is unfortunate that Bay doesn't know how to do this better as the real people that are presented deserve more. I also have to ask, does Bay actually understand that the sun can only shine on one side of the Earth at a time? He often does things where it's daytime on two sides of the Earth at the same time (here with the video calls and another example is Armageddon).

The last 90 minutes of the film is all action as based on the timeline of the attack. In standard Michael Bay-fare, the action is loud, quick, chaotic, shaky and completely utterly incomprehensible. Unlike someone like Ridley Scott who can make an action scene exciting and understandable, Bay cannot do this. The action has only two types of shots: Extreme wide-shots that seem to be there to establish the field of action. Then there are the extreme close-up shots that show either men shooting guns or other men getting killed (exploding into pieces, falling from getting shot, or having their heads blown off). Since we do not know the operators that well, it is hard to follow what is going on or who is getting killed. Because of this, what could have been high tension, is merely loud wall-to-wall action. Again, it is unfortunate for the real people being portrayed, they deserved more than this.

The script by Chuck Hogan is based on a book written by Mitchell Zuckoff (with interviews from the survivors of the attack). The script does have some goodness to it and does force the audience to wonder at what point do humans realize that killing each other is just fucking stupid.

The score by Lorne Balfe (and supervised by Hans Zimmer, who ironically turned out a fantastic score for Black Hawk Down) is not memorable and rather generic.

Krasinski does an admirable job with the role he is given. David Constabile is always reliable as an actor, and he is good as the Chief of the CIA annex. The other actors do what they can, but are not as memorable. James Badge Dale is good as the GRS operator Rone and Toby Stephens oozes badassness (can that be a thing?).

Is 13 Hours a bad film? Not at all. It was informative in some ways and has gotten me interested in reading the book that it is based on (I bought it after seeing the film and it is sitting on my Kindle). I think the film could have been better had it had a better, more visionary director. But, as it is, it is an decent movie worth seeing once.


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