Movie Review: “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi”

Starring
John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Pablo Schreiber, David Denman, Max Martini, Dominic Fumusa, David Costabile, Toby Stephens
Director
Michael Bay

Michael Bay has wasted the better part of the last decade making “Transformers” movies, each one more awful than the last, so it’s always refreshing when he takes a break from the blockbuster franchise to produce smaller films (comparatively speaking) like “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.” Based on Mitchell Zuckoff’s book about the 2012 attacks in Libya, “13 Hours” is an exhilarating and surprisingly apolitical military thriller that reconfirms why Bay is one of the best action directors in the business. Though the movie isn’t without the typical Bayisms (from the overuse of slow motion and lingering shots of the American flag, to the corny dialogue), it thankfully plays more to his strengths as a filmmaker.

John Krasinski stars as Jack Silva, a former Navy SEAL who has reluctantly resorted to military contractor work to help pay the bills. He’s the newest member of a six-man security team – the innocuously named Global Response Staff (GRS) – tasked with protecting a small group of CIA operatives working out of a top-secret outpost in Benghazi. Tensions within the city are already boiling over following the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi, so when U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens (Matt Letscher) makes a peace trip to Benghazi and insists on staying in a nearby diplomatic compound instead of under CIA protection, the GRS is placed on high alert.

The rest, as they say, is history. On the evening of September 11, 2012, Islamic militants attacked the poorly guarded compound where Ambassador Stevens was residing, and while the GRS – comprised of Silva, team leader Tyrone Woods (James Badge Dale), Kris Paronto (Pablo Schreiber), Dave Benton (David Denman), Mark Geist (Max Martini) and John Tiegen (Dominic Fumusa) – was ready to mount a rescue attempt within minutes, they were forced to stand down by the CIA chief in charge (David Costabile). When the team finally arrived at the compound, the damage had already been done, but it was just the beginning of their hellish night as they returned to the CIA annex to defend against wave after wave of rebel attacks until support arrived.

It takes nearly an hour before the first attack occurs, but Bay uses that time to establish the characters, provide an overview of the geopolitical landscape and build tension, because once it kicks into action mode, he rarely lets his foot off the gas, pummeling the audience with one explosive firefight after the next. This is Bay’s bread and butter, and he doesn’t disappoint with some expertly shot action sequences that drop the audience right into the middle of the combat. It’s a lot like “Black Hawk Down” in that regard, focusing more on the selfless bravery of these men rather than the politics of the situation. Of course, that’s not going to stop people from drawing their own conclusions, but the film never tries to push a political agenda, and that’s to the credit of Chuck Hogan’s script.

Though the action sequences are the highlight of the movie, “13 Hours” boasts a strong ensemble cast, particularly the six actors portraying the GRS team members, whose camaraderie helps mask the thin character development. Krasinski convincingly makes the transition from class clown to gritty soldier; Dale proves yet again why he’s one of the best character actors working today; and Schreiber delivers some nice comic relief as the resident jokester. The film is also really well-paced despite its lengthy runtime and tones down the jingoistic flag-waving that is prevalent in most of Bay’s work. “13 Hours” is still very much a Michael Bay movie – the director’s macho, trigger-happy fingerprints are all over this – but it’s a marked improvement compared to his recent output that harkens back to earlier films like “The Rock.”

  

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