13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi – Review by Big Gabe
Alright, let’s get some things clear, okay? I am here to review a film. That film being Michael Bay’s 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. There, right there, Michael Bay, a director who’s name can easily turn a film review into an angry tangent on his career. Some reviewers can’t help themselves, and quickly go from reviewing his films, to ranting on the man himself. I’m not going to do that. In fact, guess what? I like most of his films. RED ALERT! RED ALERT! Though, his past two films, Transformers: Age of Extinction and Pain & Gain were exceptionally bad. But whatever, this isn’t going to be a Michael Bay lynching. So if that’s what you want, sorry. Look elsewhere. Secondly, I know this film is based on a true story, something that happened just a few years ago. I’m not going to lie, I’m not really into the news, so I don’t know the full, factual story of the events depicted in this film. I only know a few basics. However, I am only here to review this film as a film. I’m not here to compare the film to the real events. Let’s be honest though, do us civilians really know the whole story anyway?
Anywho, in case you forgot how I do things, I don’t like giving detailed plot descriptions. All I’m going to say is, this film involves CIA contractors with military backgrounds who get assigned to protect a US ambassador in Benghazi, Libya. On the team’s day off, which just so happens to be on September 11th, the compound is attacked by Islamic militants. The team then makes a desperate attempt to control the situation. Ya know what? That’s more detail than I normally like to tell. So there ya go.
Alright, so what’s great about this film, huh? In all honesty, a lot. For most of us who watch war films, the first thing we expect is some well made combat sequences. Since Michael Bay is most competent when it comes to action, the combat is spectacularly done. Now that might have some people worried since Bay is known to overdo it in the action department, and this is a film about real events and real people. We didn’t want another Pearl Harbor, where we have fun watching awesome action sequences, but then later realize that shit actually happened. We didn’t need over-stylized action for the sake of entertainment. Here’s the great news. This time, for this film, Bay seems to have pulled back on his usually glamorous style of action. Rather than making the combat look like over-the-top fun, here, it looks downright gritty, violent, rough, and intense. I’m not going to say it won’t entertain action fans and people that just want to see carnage and shit get blown up, but there will be moments where you’ll cringe and feel really bad for some of the men who went through this situation. Restraint is what Bay seems to have learned to use for this film. This isn’t a fantasy film with made up violence and made up characters. These were real events, and Michael Bay seems to respect that, unlike some of his other fact-based films.
As for the storytelling, that’s where things get somewhat rough. The film has more of a respectable tone, rather than Bay’s usually hyper-energetic editing style, where everything feels fun and goofy. I respect that, however, in having a serious tone, the pacing in the first 40 minutes is off, as well as the storytelling being quite incoherent. There seems to be more of a reliance on text that appears on-screen rather than dialogue given by actors to explain the events happening in the film. People have often complained that Michael Bay’s films feel like music videos, which makes sense since he directed music videos in his earlier career. That didn’t bother me too much in the past, but in this film, it kinda did. It also seems like he tried to be somewhat artsy with his depiction on these events. Michael Bay, don’t. Don’t do that, please. The bottom line, I don’t feel I learned enough about the situation. At the same time, maybe it’s good thing the film tries to stay clear of an overbearing political message and focus on the heart of the story, which is seeing these men try to do their jobs and survive.
Between the exceptional combat and the flawed storytelling, 13 Hours finds a fine balance with its characters and performances. All the actors who play CIA operatives with military backgrounds come off as the most authentic servicemen Michael Bay has assembled on film. Bay obviously has an undying love for the military, but sometimes, his depiction of the military comes off as dim-witted. Here, everything is on point. We’re given enough time to meet each team member, spend time with them, see how they interact with each other, and hear and see them strategize and operate. Thus, allowing them to enter our hearts enough so we want to see them come out alive, even though we know some of them won’t make it. Our two leads, James Badge Dale and John Krasinski, are great together, coming off as very natural and capable. Krasinsky, being more of a comedic actor, shows quite a bit of range, and I wouldn’t mind seeing him in more action-thrillers in the future. Each team member has his own personality, some more witty than others, but each man feels like a real person rather than a stereotype.
13 Hours won’t go down as a war classic, but it should be remembered as Michael Bay’s finest hour. It’s a film where he tried, and mostly succeeded, to distance himself from his normally mindless popcorn flicks, and tell the real-life story that honors the men who struggled to protect others and themselves. It’s a gripping film with enough intensity to keep you interested, and dare I say entertained, but also appreciate what these men went through. You can’t escape the typical Bay-isms, and there is a fair share of flag waving moments, but 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is a film that shows signs that Michael Bay might finally be maturing as a director. Again, might.
Big Gabe’s Review: 4 outta 5