Michael Bay has always been a bit of a quandary as a director. His Transformers films have been pretty much a disaster with critics yet still very popular with audiences. I mean, they DO make money even though they are not good films. I did not particularly hate the first two, but the last two are horrible. I have had my own bone to pick with Bay on some of his films. However, when he sets his mind to it, he can do great work. Bad Boys and The Rock are two that come to mind. You can add 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi to the list of great films by Michael Bay. January 2016, usually a dumping ground for films that studios would like to forget, is shaping up to be a decent month.
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi tells the true story of the terrorist attack on the American embassy in 2012. It coincided with the anniversary of the original attacks on America in 2001. This is the story of how it happened as told by those who were there, survived and wrote the book 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.
As the film opens it explains that the American Embassy was the only foreign embassy in the region that was still open, despite warnings and the fact that every other country closed their embassies down and brought their personnel home. The CIA had a “secret” operational facility less than a mile away from the American Ambassador Chris Stevens’ residence. The CIA presence was to monitor the vacuum left by the death of dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Warring factions all over Libya were scrambling for power and whatever munitions they cold find. Most of it was held by Qaddafi, himself. As far as the Ambassador’s residence was concerned it was accessible to anyone if they wanted to get in badly enough. Ambo (military slang for Ambassador) Stevens had newly been appointed to the position and believed in bringing the region to a peaceful calm, although privately he was very concerned about the security of the compound. With good reason. He had a TWO man security team to cover nine acres.
At the CIA compound, there were six or seven military contractors(GSR’s)who provided security. Tyrone “Rone” Woods (James Badge Dale) and fresh off of the plane, Jack Silva (John Krasinski) are the leaders of the team along with Kris “Tanto” Paronto (Pablo Schreiber) Dave “Boom” Benton (David Denman), John “Tig” Tiegen (Dominic Fumusa), Mark “Oz” Geist and Glen “Bub” Doherty who is one of the very few who answered the calls for help. He spends most of his time trying to get into Libya and to the compound which turns out to be a logistical nightmare. These are all tough hombres. Ex-military, Navy Seals or Rangers. The very best of the best. Fearless warriors in which NOTHING phases them.
When the embassy is attacked by Libyan terrorists and set fire to, the GSR’s are told to “stand down”. This happens at least three times to my count and has been argued for the past three years on whether this happened, at all. Quite frankly, it seems rather unbelievable that, while there were swarms of terrorist protesters destroying and pillaging all around the compound that NO ONE ever called for some kind of assistance. Anyway, after repeated calls for help the GSR team decides they are going, orders or no orders. What followed was the 13 hour standoff and the fight to survive when no help was believed to be coming.
Michael Bay has been wise not to make this film political. It could have been easily dismissed as Bay having an ax to grind. Despite people on both sides saying there is a clear political agenda, I did not find any judgments by director Bay or the script writer Chuck Hogan. There is no red meat for Liberals or Conservatives in this film and that is a good thing. Bay has enough respect for the audience to make up their own minds. This films succeeds because it is about real people, real characters and how they deal with overwhelming odds. James Badge Dale and John Krasinski are terrific as two stoic individuals who lead even when all Hell is breaking loose. They don’t know who is on their side and several references are made explaining this. Dale and Krasinski bring quiet power to their roles and the supporting performers are equally effective.
The film is careful to set up the turmoil at the time, with business as usual for the CIA, who is trying to make contacts with some of the locals who CAN be trusted in order to set up some kind of peaceful government (among their other duties) until elections are held. People have criticized the first hour by saying it is slow and unfocused. I could not disagree more with that assessment. It is essential to the story to show how the events transpired and director Bay and scriptwriter Chuck Hogan (who based the script on Mitchell Zuckoff’s book) know exactly what they are doing. They know how long to linger on certain shots and scenes and everything is timed beautifully. Dion Beebe’s cinematography captures the beauty of the landscape of Libya but also is very effective in capturing the gritty terror of battle, in detail. The editing team of Pietro Scalia and Calvin Wimmer is particularly sharp and Lorne Balfe’s score is tremendous and worth purchasing.
Michael Bay has made an intense, moving and respectful tribute to those who survived and those who didn’t survive the attacks on September 11 of 2012. This is by far, Bay’s best film and dare I say, possibly one of the best films of 2016. We do have a long way to go in 2016 but 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is a towering achievement.
!3 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi-****1/2 out of 5
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi- Rated R for violence, language, battle sequences and gore
!3 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi- Run Time is 144 minutes
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is now playing in local theaters. Check your local listings for showplaces and showtimes.