Film and TV

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Title: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote Image: 

Brief Plot Synopsis: Six CIA contractors in Benghazi battle ivory tower Poindexters and bureaucratic inertia. Oh, and also a hundred armed militants.

Rating Using Random Objects Related To The Film: Two weeping bald eagles out of five.

Tagline: "When everything went wrong, six men had the courage to do what was right."

Better Tagline: "See it before the Iowa caucuses."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Libya destabilized dramatically after the collapse of the four decade-long dictatorship of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. In spite of increasing unrest in the months leading up to the attack, the United States maintained both a diplomatic compound (not an embassy) in Benghazi, as well as a secret CIA annex about a mile away. On September 11, 2012, U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens was visiting when a group of Islamic militants attacked the compound and then moved on to the annex. Six contractors with the CIA's Global Response Staff (GRS) and a handful of State Department security personnel were the only line of defense, and fought off the attacks throughout the night in what would later become known as the battle that launched a (baker's) dozen Congressional hearings.

"Critical" Analysis:
Don't kid yourselves, 13 Hours is absolutely a political movie.

Director Michael Bay has called this his "most real" film yet (bold words for a guy usually preoccupied with giant, urinating robots), and one that avoids politics, which is — big surprise — not entirely accurate. Certainly there are no overt references to President Obama or Secretary of State Clinton, but between the snarky asides ("I'm just telling you what *the news* is saying") and the contrasting depictions of the CIA personnel (Ivy League eggheads blind to the growing threat) and the GRS mercs (alpha males — they even refer to themselves as "alphas" at one point — with the big, brave balls to make the hard choices), the agenda isn't hard to discern.

And the criticisms are the same flavor we've been hearing since America stopped fighting "good wars": Just get out of the military's way and it will set things right. From the moment our protagonist, ex-SEAL Jack Da Silva (John Krasinski, fresh off Chris Pratt's patented Schlubby Sitcom Star Makeover Program), arrives in the country, the very idea of civilian oversight is derided. There was applause in the theater when GRS commander Tyrone "Rone" Woods (James Badge Dale) finally told the station chief (an appropriately officious David Costabile), "You're not giving orders anymore." They get results, you stupid chief!

You can be forgiven if your first reaction upon hearing Bay was going to be directing a movie about the 2012 attacks was eye-rolling to the point of cranial prolapse. More charitably, you might have wondered how he proposed to make a credible film about arguably the most politically inflammatory incident of the past decade when his only previous foray into military annals (2001's Pearl Harbor) was so laughably inaccurate it might as well have been an episode of Drunk History.

And it's a legitimate question, because unless Bay can separate 13 Hours from the political circus now forever associated with the word "Benghazi," it won't succeed. And unfortunately, it doesn't.

Certainly, the action is intense and often effective, and it's punctuated enough by the main characters' complaints about everyone who's, well, not *them* that you can almost buy this as an outsider effort. Going by the mercs themselves (the GRS survivors worked with Bay and screenwriter Chuck Hogan, adapting Mitchell Zuckoff's book), their immediate superiors were clueless, the brass slow to react and the locals supremely untrustworthy even when they aren't actively trying to kill Americans.  

Which all plays into Bay's MO. He admires the pageantry of the military while scorning the administrative apparatus behind it. His heroes are always rogue soldiers who give the finger to the bureaucracy and play by their own set of rules. In that respect, he's the perfect filmmaker to glamorize the actions of a shadow organization created to provide off-book protection services to America's skunk works.

13 Hours isn't good; it's exploitative. And any claims its filmmakers could make to patriotic certitude fall away when you realize the movie's most humanly cathartic scene takes place in a McDonald's drive-through and one of its most compelling action sequences plays like an extended commercial for Mercedes-Benz's new sedan. As with most of his ilk, Bay's patriotism takes a back seat to his bank account.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar