Movie Review: 13 Hours is Michael Bay's Benghazi

- Yes, Michael Bay really made a Benghazi movie. And the nicest thing I can say about "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” is that it’s far from Bay’s most over-the-top or offensive film.

The film tells the story you’ve heard about from dozens of news accounts and hundreds of email forwards: The September 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission- and nearby CIA annex facility in Benghazi, Libya, which resulted in the death of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.

That particular day has been the subject of much controversy and consternation, including multiple investigations. Bay’s film, somewhat uncharacteristically, doesn’t go to the extreme with this stuff. There’s no scene of Obama and Hillary scheming to leave the four men to die, or anything validating the more extravagant conspiracy theories.

Instead, 13 Hours is a bit more passive-aggressive: It takes a single character, the CIA station chief, and makes him the all-purpose stand-in for Obama/Hillary/”people from Harvard and Yale.” Played by David Costabile, who as the newspaper editor on season five of The Wire also played the human avatar of all of his creator’s biggest enemies, the character is depicted as a sniveling coward who doubles as the only person in the film who uses the words “stand down.”  

The film is at its strongest when it’s just the members of the team, and their camaraderie. It’s also trying to do a lot of the things that Clint Eastwood did with American Sniper, only not as well. No, there’s nothing close to that film’s nuance, about war and the men who fight it. But I still got a sense of who the characters were and why we’re supposed to care about them.

 13 Hours is at its worst when it goes into action mode, and we get all the touchstones of Bad Bay: Shaky-cam, complete incoherence, and no sense of where the characters are in relation to one another. In a movie set on a compound, we should have a better idea of the geography of the place, but in this film, we do not.

There are plenty of missed opportunities, too. The Libyan invaders, as has been said often about this sort of film, might as well be zombies- they have neither names nor speaking lines, nor do we even learn the name of their organization.

The characters are not quite soldiers, and this is not quite a war- most of them are private military contractors in the employ of the CIA. But this change from how things have traditionally gone in the military- the subject of numerous whole books in the last few years- is barely commented upon.

The casting takes several actors who probably like and outfits them with one beard and about 20 extra pounds of muscle each. There’s John Krasinski, counterintuitively cast as a badass, there’s his old The Office romantic rival David Denman, and James Badge Dale, and Pablo Schreiber. I for one had trouble telling some of the actors apart- there’s the big, muscled, bearded guy with red hair, the other big, muscled bearded guy with red hair, and then at the end (SPOILER ALERT) they’re joined by a third big, muscled, bearded guy with red hair, who shows up just in time.

As for other Bay traditions, there’s a lot less misogyny than usual- in fact, there’s only one female character, and she’s only put in her place with demeaning dialogue once.

So yes, the nicest thing that I can say about 13 Hours is that it’s not nearly as egregiously offensive as Pearl Harbor, Pain & Gain, or any of the three Transformers movies. 

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