“13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” is the true story of six members of a security team who fought to defend the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi during the September 2012 attack. James Badge Dale, John Krasinski, and Max Martini star as Bay directs.
Like I said above, there was no reason to have confidence walking into “13 Hours.” Michael Bay doesn’t exactly have a great track record, and January is a known dumping ground for Hollywood’s unwanted trash. However to be fair, the release date was selected to piggyback off the success of January wide releases “American Sniper” and “Lone Survivor,” two other “AMERICA!” war movies, and maybe being a true story would make Bay try a little harder to respect the real-life people [ignores how he horrible botched “Pearl Harbor” and “Pain & Gain”]. And I will give Bay credit: “13 Hours” is an almost genuine attempt to make an actual coherent film, but he only half-succeeds at it.
“13 Hours” is somewhat of a tough movie to critique. It means well and looks great, but it falls victim to Bay’s flaws, as well as action film clichés in general. But let’s start with the good.
The film looks like a normal Bay film (Dutch angles and wide shots), which I have never had a problem with. Cinematographer Dion Beebe is, for most of the runtime, able to shoot clear action sequences that don’t incorporate the normal shaky-cam that plagues Hollywood action films, and all the sun-soaked and moon-kissed scenery really do look great.
I will also give Bay and company props for not leaning (at least blatantly) too far to either side of the political spectrum. They could have named names or had a scene showing the aftermath of the attack and the subsequent investigations, however they simply state the truth of what happened, that no one sent help to the compound, and let you draw your own conclusions whether it was justified or not.
The characters of the film hold off becoming Michael Bay cartoons for as long as they can, and are able to until the film’s climax. By that I mean there isn’t too much overacting or awkward forced humor, and there isn’t a single character here simply for comedy relief. However once all the dust of battle settles we get a few instances of unbelievable behavior and awkward attempts to lighten the mood.
For the first two acts of the movie I was being entertained enough. I realized I was not watching high art, but I appreciated the genuine attempt from Bay, and seeing Americans shoot nameless bad guys has always made for good cinema, right? But then the film’s final 30 minutes happen, and I really just wanted the movie to end. This film has no right to be 144 minutes long, and the final act is mostly the soldiers sitting on a rooftop in an attempt by the film to act as character development. Problem is we’ve already spent two hours with these men; we already know or don’t know all we need to about them, so forcing us lines about how they miss their families or really want come pancakes is just useless filler.
“13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” is pretty much the living embodiment of the expression “close but no cigar.” I give Bay props for trying to make a good movie, and it looks great, but the story is just too convoluted when it should be straightforward, and it wears out its welcome before the climax of the film even arrives. The film is good by Michael Bay and January standards, but that doesn’t make it worth a recommendation.
Critics Rating: 5/10