Dog’s Movie House: “13 Hours” Has Michael Bay Directing A Film For Adults For A Change!
Howdy Folks! It’s The Kendog!
I find Michael Bay to be an interesting filmmaker. He’s technically proficient, but for the most part seem to care next to nothing about the quality of the scripts he uses as the foundation of his films. Most of his output seems to lean toward juvenile fare such as The Transformers and Bad Boys films, but lately Bay seems to be making an attempt to mature as a director. “Pain and Gain” while not perfect, was Bay’s most self-assured movie, despite the grisly subject matter, and now he’s taken another step forward with “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi” a film that avoids the volatile politics of a real life incident in Libya in favor of a soldier’s eye view of the assault on a secret CIA compound in September of 2012. The movie is a mostly successful (if overlong) thriller about the perils of combat in the midst of a culture we as Americans don’t understand.
“13 Hours” details the chaos in Libya after Khadafi was removed from power. In September of 2012, Ambassador Chris Stevens (Matt Letscher) arrives in Benghazi to pledge U.S. support for building a safe, democratic Libya. He’s sincere, but next to his temporary diplomatic embassy is a secret CIA annex providing intel for the US government. Here we have about 30 CIA personnel and a group of private contractors, all former military, led by Tyrone “Rone” Woods (James Badge Dale). Into this group comes Jack Silva (a rocked up John Krasinski), a long-time friend of Rone’s on his 12th deployment. Their task is to bodyguard the CIA folks and run additional security for the Ambassador. Their mettle is put to the test when Libyan militants first attack the Ambassador’s embassy and then come after the soldiers at the Annex. Cut off from any support and beset by bureaucratic miscues, the team must try to hold out until reinforcements arrive.
Based on the book by Mitchell Zuckoff, Chuck Hogan’s script actually does a pretty decent job of portraying events as they unfolded in 2012, focusing primarily on the contracting team as they realize how potentially screwed they are as events unfold. Some of Bay’s usual tricks are on display: the overuse of slow motion to denote an “emotional moment,” lots of American gung-ho patriotism, and at least one scene of the American flag blowing in the breeze, but for the most part “13 Hours” serves as Bay’s most grounded film.
The set-up is a long time coming but the pay-off is worth the wait. I was reminded of “Lone Survivor” in the way Bay sets up the action sequences playing the experienced and lethal soldiers off the less disciplined militants. The Americans may be outnumbered but when they finally get to unleash hell it’s an impressive sight. The action is really well done and there is actually a decent amount of suspense in both the setup and the payoff.
The performances are actually quite good with Dale’s Rone and Krasinski’s Jack doing most of the heavy lifting. Their characters aren’t particularly deep, but Hogan’s script gives the characters a natural, easy chemistry that makes us sympathize for their plight without really knowing much about their backstories. These guys are manly men, but not the arrogant, jingo spouting goofballs they could have been. Their toughness becomes apparent during the fighting, but these men have emotion and fears just like other men, and the cast really puts that across. I especially enjoyed Boon (David Denman) the hulking brute who likes to read Joseph Campbell and his buddy Tanto (Pablo Schreiber), the motor mouth who questions every one and every decision around him.
“13 Hours” is far from perfect. At 2 ½ hours the movie is too long and the setup, though intriguing takes a bit to get going. There are also side trips during the first half of the movie that seemingly go nowhere and are simply there to illustrate how unprepared the CIA staff at the annex are to deal with real violence. The characters are skimpy and both the script and Bay do a fairly good job of portraying the CIA as a bunch of bookworm-like idiots, especially the condescending CIA chief Bob (Dave Costabile), a whiny douchebag you end up hoping gets killed in the conflict. The enemies are faceless savages and their motives are never really fully explained. This is a double edged sword in that you get very little backstory on the Libyan militants but a great sense of the surreal atmosphere of guerilla warfare. The Libyans all look alike and the Americans have a nightmare on their hands when it comes to distinguishing friend from foe.
Overall, “13 Hours” is a fairly gripping thriller that is certain to entertain fans of Michael Bay. It’s action packed, well-acted, and wisely avoids the political finger pointing that’s so prevalent on every news station in the damned country in favor of the soldier’s view of events. It needs to be shorter and the setup could have been a little more coherent, but you could do a lot worse for an action thriller this weekend. 3 ½ Out Of 5 on Kendog’s Barkometer! So Sayeth The Kendog!
“13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi” is Rated R for strong combat violence throughout, bloody images, and language.