When they are done right, films about war and terrorism cut right through me. Every time. Upon leaving the theater, I think about a world where my son Vinny wakes up and I am not around due to some conflict hundreds of thousands of miles away that has nothing to do with him or I. Michael Bay’s latest film, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, is visceral, powerful and throws one of the most embarrassing moments for the U.S. Government in your face. The result is a film that kicks you in the gut.
September 11th, 2012. Benghazi, Libya. Hell on Earth. The farthest leap from a vacation spot or landing spot for someone not trained to kill. A U.S. compound holding a 36 Americans was overrun by Islamic militants, hellbent on killing everyone inside, including a U.S. Ambassador. Six ex-military mercenaries, stationed nearby at another secret U.S. base, were suddenly tasked with saving as many lives as they could. Some died. Some lived. The foolhardy move was the government not sending support of any kind, neither through the air or on the ground until it was nearly too late.
13 Hours will make you mad and get you fired up, but that’s only because Bay, screenwriter Chuck Hogan and a superb cast do their jobs very well in depicting a tragic day in our nations history. The Bay critics, and I am one of them, may brush his attempt at dramatic artistry, because of how badly he fumbled Pearl Harbor nearly two decades ago. I decided to give him a fair shot. Bay enlisted a few of the real American soldiers who stood and fought when they didn’t have to, same as Peter Berg did when making Lone Survivor, the story of Operation Red Wing and Marcus Luttrell. That authenticity and total buy in helps the film transcend off the screen and into the heads of its audience.
A good cast helps. These guys are game. My view and general opinion of John Krasinski pulled a 180 degree turn here, as the actor most known for his comedic role on The Office gets down and dirty to play ex-Navy Seal Jack Silva. Equipped with a beard, a six pack, and a charismatic yet tactical personality, Krasinski inhabits Silva quite seamlessly. You never think it’s a hard pull for the actor, as he deftly slides into this world. He is the central base of the cast, and the one you will get to know the most.
James Badge Dale, one of Hollywood’s best Everyman and Anything performers, is Tyrone “Rone” Woods and is a box of matches lit up and thrown in the air. Dale is a natural chameleon and perfectly plays Rone without overdoing the machismo connective tissue of the team leader. Pablo Schneider(Orange is the New Black) provides the comic relief as Kris “Tonto” Paranto, one of the team members who mixes the light and dark of the situation. Calm under pressure and easy to drop a one liner, Schneider(another face of cinema) really fares well here. Dominic Fumusa, David Denman and Max Martini aren’t given dual layered characters but still provide fine work to round out a cast that also includes Toby Stephens(Black Sails) and Demetrius Grosse(Banshee).
This movie will stir you up and not let you down so easy. American lives were lost and they could have been saved. When I watched this film, I thought of Lone Survivor and the scene where Mark Wahlberg’s Luttrell calmly tells a fellow soldier, “It’s just Afghanistan, that’s all.” That’s what I get when I watched this flick. Wrong place. Wrong time. However, these six men didn’t have to stand and fight or go rescue others. They could have simply stood their ground and waited. For these guys, that wasn’t in the makeup. The actors and director place you down in the fight.
Few directors(outside of Christopher Nolan and Michael Mann) do action better than Bay. He doesn’t just blow stuff up here. He creates many sounds with his bullets, explosives and shrapnel. When a mortar is launched out of the cannon and towards the Americans, you ride with it from the base launch until the landing spot. 50 caliber machine guns and grenades are like supporting actors, tearing scenes and people apart. Bay spares nothing and doesn’t pull a punch. The gloves come completely off here and it’s great.
The movie does a great job of slowing down and allowing some character development, especially between Krasinski and Dale. Since the real guys consulted on the film and helped Hogan put the events together(along with Mitchell Zuckoff’s novel), the quiet scenes don’t feel added. Just something to show that it wasn’t all shooting and fire that night. The fair dose of humor also helps keep things smooth and sailing.
Nothing hits harder than a well done action flick that happens to be based on a true story. Upon leaving 13 Hours, you’ll feel anger, rage, sadness, and a powerful urge to talk to your husband, wife, girlfriend, dad, sibling or friend about what you just saw. It will spur discussion and not just from the political friendly crowd. 13 Hours will light many up inside.
Well done, Mr. Bay. I didn’t think you had it in you.