7 out of 10
John Krasinski as Jack Silva
Directed by Michael Bay
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi Review
A solid performance by John Krasinski and some breathtaking action make 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi worth seeing. It’s easily one of Michael Bay’s better films. If you’re into current events, I recommend it.
This film is based on a true story. It is also based on the book by Mitchell Zuckoff.
In 2012, Libya was in the midst of turmoil after dictator Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown and killed. In his place came warring militias and factions, all heavily armed with weapons raided from Gadaffi’s army. Amid this, the CIA ran a secret compound in Benghazi. Staffed by analysts, they were protected by security contractors who were former Navy SEALS, Army Special Forces, and Marine Force Recon.
Jack Silva arrives in Benghazi a few weeks before September 11th as one of those security contractors. But around the anniversary of the attacks, Ambassador Chris Stevens arrives and is eager to foster goodwill between the United States and the Libyan people. However, to do so he feels he must forego security measures. Little does he realize that the local militants are planning to raid his personal compound and kill him.
As the militants attack, Jack Silva and his fellow security contractors find themselves to be the only ones capable of rescuing the Ambassador and his overwhelmed security team. But bureaucratic restrictions, a contemptuous CIA leader, and a lack of military support mean if they undertake the rescue, it could turn into a suicide mission.
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is rated R strong combat violence throughout, bloody images, and language.
I have to admit that I really don’t like Michael Bay for what he did to “Transformers.” I was always a fan of the toys, cartoons, and comics and I feel like he’s destroyed most of what made them special. But then he does a film like 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi and it reminds me that he’s capable of making movies that I enjoy. After all, he made The Rock, Bad Boys, and Pain & Gain. As much as he ignores plot, characterization, logic, and physics in “Transformers,” he makes up for it here. “13 Hours” is much more in his wheelhouse.
With all of the problems going on with ISIS and the Middle East, this film is a timely reminder of our role in those regions. Bay makes a point to leave out political commentary, but it’s also quite clear in this story that our government made a lot of mistakes in Libya. From improperly-trained CIA operatives to ambassadors not following basic security protocol, there’s a lot for our government to fix no matter which political party is in charge. Unfortunately it cost a lot of people’s lives to learn those lessons.
Despite the fact that this is a true story and many Americans and Libyans died, this is also a compelling action movie. It is essentially a modern Alamo situation where a few vastly outnumbered soldiers held off an attacking army. (And if that point wasn’t apparent to you, one of the characters says exactly that in order to hit you over the head with the message.) The action scenes are well choreographed and tense. We see a raid on the compound, a memorable car chase through the city, and a cat and mouse game in a burning house. The film is over two hours long, but you hold your breath the whole time during the last hour.
But it’s not all action. There are some fun moments between the characters and a lot of humor. Some of the dialogue feels like it could have come from a lunch I have on any given day with my co-workers. That dialogue flows so well because of the likable cast. John Krasinski leads them as Jack Silva. We already knew he was a great comedic actor from “The Office,” but this reinforces that he can handle drama as well and that he can more than hold his own in action movies. It’s going to be interesting to see if this role lands him in more action films like Chris Pratt did after Zero Dark Thirty. In an interesting twist, Krasinski’s “The Office” co-star David Denman appears as Dave ‘Boon’ Benton here. Yes, Jim Halpert and Roy Anderson are in a war movie together. If you pretend it’s set in the world of “The Office,” it adds an extra dimension of fun to it. But that aside, James Badge Dale as Tyrone ‘Rone’ Woods, Pablo Schreiber as Kris ‘Tanto’ Paronto, Dominic Fumusa as John ‘Tig’ Tiegen, and Max Martini as Mark ‘Oz’ Geist are all excellent and have moments to shine. They do their real life counterparts proud in “13 Hours.”
What Didn’t Work:
While 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is a solid war movie, it does feel like a lighter version of Black Hawk Down. They have a lot of the same elements, but there is less gore, action and intensity in Bay’s story than Ridley Scott’s.
And while Bay made a special point not to get political with the story, it definitely feels a bit one-sided in favor of the security contractors. They come across as the only Americans in Libya who have any idea what’s going on or how to conduct themselves. While that very well may be the case in real life, it’s a little hard to believe that the CIA, the ambassador, and the other security guards are the Keystone Cops they are portrayed to be here.
Bay also does resort to a few stereotypes in the film. The Libyan militants are pretty much faceless cannon fodder. However, one scene towards the end shows the dead militant’s wives and children recovering their bodies. It kind of feels like an afterthought after the relentless violence, but the film could have given more of a face to the Libyans than they did. The few that they did, like the Libyans that help the soldiers or the translator Amahl, show that there are more characters worth exploring in this story. Another stereotype is the arrogant CIA leader Bob played by David Costabile. Again, it could have been a realistic portrayal, but it just felt like a cartoon character here.
As far as the camerawork goes, Michael Bay loves the “shaky camera” and it’s in full force here. If you don’t like it or get motion sick, “13 Hours” won’t please you. Combine that with low light and a lot of chaos and it’s often hard to tell what exactly is happening in the action scenes.
One last note – before this movie they showed a little documentary showing the real men portrayed in the film. While this was nice and added weight to the story, it also told you who lived and who died if you were at all paying attention to who was interviewed in the featurette. Maybe they should have saved it for the DVD.
The Bottom Line:
Overall 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is a solidly entertaining film. Even if you’re not a fan of Michael Bay, you may find this to be a compelling war movie. And if you’re a fan of John Krasinski, I would definitely recommend checking it out.