Film Review: 13 Hours

by Chad Liffmann on January 15, 2016

A loud, intense disappointment from director Michael Bay-nghazi

I have a feeling we're not in Scranton anymore.

I have a feeling we’re not in Scranton anymore.

I’ll start with what impressed me about Michael Bay’s 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. First (yes there is more than one thing), the story follows the real life sequence of events, at least based on what is publicly known about the attack. Second, Bay still knows how to capture intensive explosive action on screen. The firefights are, indeed, very effective. Despite knowing how the events played out, the chaotic gunfire and threat of technicals kept me on the edge of my seat. But those moments come and go, and the remaining minutes of the film completely misfire on all cylinders. The dialogue, comprised of 95% stupid one-liners, is an embarrassment. The stereotyped supporting characters are cringe-worthy. And the message Bay is trying to get across is confusing. 13 Hours shows some directorial maturation from Bay, but the film fails to properly honor the real life heroes due to the same annoyances that we’ve come to expect from Bay’s everlasting churn of slightly entertaining blockbuster garbage.

On September 11, 2012, Islamic militants attacked an American compound in Benghazi, Libya, killing U.S. Ambassador Christopher J. Stevens and U.S. Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith. A second attack a few hours later at an adjacent American compound wounded more and took the lives of two CIA contract soldiers. 13 Hours follows the squad of CIA contractors as they risk their lives, and break military protocol, to protect U.S. citizens at the two compounds. We’re dragged through throw-away character development for the first act. I can’t imagine that the real life soldiers spoke even remotely like they do in 13 Hours, throwing out cheap insults and macho one liners like they’re frat boys playing video games (at one point that’s actually what they’re doing). Credit to the cast for doing their best to deliver the bleh dialogue, since the acting isn’t bad by a long shot. My apologies if 13 Hours is a 100% accurate portrayal of these characters, but I predict that Zero Dark Thirty contains a more realistic depiction of soldiers interacting with each other in combat zones, especially whilst they’re engaged in fighting.

At one point in the last few minutes, the stubborn cowardly station chief (fact or fiction? I dunno) who has realized the error of his ways says to one of the soldiers, “I’m proud to know Americans like you.” Now THAT is a hard line to deliver without sounding like the cheesiest actor in the Western hemisphere. Well, that’s what it sounds like. In fact, that’s what the whole movie sounds like when there isn’t a blanket of gunfire and technical rounds exploding in your ears — a giant cheese-fest meant to be an honorable salute to courageous heroes but instead an obnoxious action blockbuster disguised as an important political thriller. I blame Michael Bay for everything that went wrong here. Even the surprise casting of The Office charmer John Krasinski as the main CIA contractor protagonist isn’t a big miss. Krasinski holds his own and should consider similar roles in better films since there’s a action hero skill there that he can explore some more. Here, instead, we get a glamour shot of a sweaty shirtless ripped Krasinski emerging from his room to the sound of U.S. diplomats being attacked…sexy!

Under different direction, this incredibly sensitive material and complex event in our nation’s history may have gone down the way of the far superior Lone Survivor or even Zero Dark ThirtyAfter 60+ minutes of relentless gunfire containing the glorified killing of scores of Islamic militants (glorified because the American heroes are shouting macho one-liners throughout and the militants are mostly faceless), we end the film with real video footage and a subtitle mentioning that 10,000 Libyans came out to mourn the loss of the U.S. Ambassador. While a very crucial point to the story, it just left a weird taste in my mouth after watching such a gung-ho representation of U.S. forces insulting Libya at every turn, including the wonderful line, “Your country’s gotta figure this shit out” delivered by good guy U.S. soldier to good guy Libyan interpreter friend, but I guess the latter might have just as well been a bad guy. Subtlety and care have never been Michael Bay’s strong suits.

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13 Hours comes out in theaters Friday, January 15th.

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