Directed by Michael Bay (Transformers, Pearl Harbor)
Written by Chuck Hogan (The Strain)
Cinematography Dion Beebe (Edge of Tomorrow, Gangster Squad)
Music by Lorne Balfe (Sherlock Holmes, Terminator: Genisys)
Produced by Erwin Stoff (The Matrix, I Am Legend), Michael Bay
Starring John Krasinski (The Office, Something Borrowed), James Badge Dale (The Departed, World War Z), Pablo Schreiber (Orange is the New Black, Bubble Boy), David Denman (The Office, Power Rangers), Dominic Fumusa (Nurse Jackie, Focus), Max Martini (Captain Phillips, Pacific Rim), Alexia Barlier (Falco, Kali), David Costabile (Breaking Bad, Lincoln)
Many versions of the events surrounding the American embassy in Benghazi on September 11th and 12th, 2012 have been told to us by various media outlets and political talking heads. I distinctly remember the 2012 general elections when this story hit, and the hotbed, issue that it became on the campaign trail as well as Congressional hearings involving our then Secretary of State. This time in our history was a sad commentary on how politically charged our country was at the time, and frankly, it still is.
When 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi became a reality from the directorship of Michael Bay, I thought, “Oh boy, this will ruffle some feathers.” It did, but having now seen the film, I’m not really sure why it would. I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure how Bay would tell the story through film considering his fascination for eye candy on screen with large robots and explosions, but the reviews I was hearing from friends were all positive. I didn’t see it in theatre, but now I wish I had. 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi strips away all of the political minutia, and gives us the meat and potato details on what our soldiers faced on the night of September 11th and early morning September 12th in Benghazi.
Image via Qwipster’s Movie Reviews
Often, I think of Navy Seals, Marines, and Army Rangers as hardened, killing machines who possess no remorse. I don’t think I’m the only one guilty of this. This movie reminded me that although these men were capable of taking another’s life, they were human. Each soldier – Jack Silva (Krasinski), Tyron ‘Rone’ Woods (Dale), Kris ‘Tanto’ Paronto (Schreiber), Dave ‘Boon’ Benton (Fenman), John ‘Tig’ Tiegen (Fumusa), and Mark ‘Oz’ Geist (Martini) – had a family. They also loved each other and would willingly lay down their life for their brother in arms. Some would inevitably make that ultimate sacrifice.
Even though the gravity of their situation became apparent within the first hour of the film, we get to see the guys have some down time at their barracks and acquire more background on some of the men. The story’s main character, Jack has left a wife, a couple of daughters, and a failing real estate business behind to contract for some work on security detail in Benghazi. This is his twelfth such deployment. Rone has failed as a parent, but has a second chance with his son, and think himself as a half decent parent after all. He is also their fearless commander on the field. Tig has been in Benghazi longer than anyone else at the embassy, so he shows Jack the lay of the land. Boon is a man of few words, but Tanto talks enough for both men.
Since each man has a family, they keep daily contact while assuring their loved ones they’ll be home soon. For most of their time there, they’re not aware of just how dangerous the landscape is with numerous insurrections near the embassy which will eventually lead to their front door.
Image via Roger Ebert
As well as getting to know each soldier, I also appreciated the level of detail in imagery and in the city of Benghazi as well as the movie’s characters. Many shots are taken of the townspeople showing them go about their day to day tasks while there’s gunfire not ten yards away from their residence. Let it not be said that an open gun fight in the city will prevent a Benghazian from catching a soccer game. “Just another Tuesday night in Benghazi.” Also, there were several scenes showing sweat beads forming on the soldier’s beards which I thought added a level of intensity.
Many camera shots stayed up close and personal to characters’ faces to help capture what the characters were going through and give us a better understanding of their thought process. I don’t recall there being any shaky camera movements during intense combat scenes, and despite numerous camera shots zooming in on characters for a personal affect, nothing seemed cheap or had that homemade video feel.
The lighting for most of the film was dark, and I don’t just mean when the sun had set and darkness fell. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that the lighting was as dark as a D.C. film like Wonder Woman or Justice League, but I did feel that the darker lighting fed into the characters’ dire situation, which to me worked for the film.
As far as dialogue goes for the film, there were much-needed moments of levity among the soldiers, and there was plenty of “military talk” mingled in. However, I felt the dialogue seemed natural throughout, considering the fact that most of the story’s characters were facing the possibility of imminent death. Comparing dialogue to other Bay films such as Armageddon and the Transformer movies, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi far surpassed them not only in dialogue, but in almost every other way.
I can watch nearly any film that has action in it, including war films. But 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi wasn’t just like any other war film. The events it depicts happened during my lifetime and are still rather fresh in my mind, so I experienced a good deal of emotion, both positive and negative, while watching the film. When Boone or Jack would promptly dispense of an insurrectionist attacking the embassy, I couldn’t help but pump my fist a bit and chant ‘Murica!’ But the movie of course, wasn’t that shallow. The attackers on the embassy had families too, and we even see their deaths mourned. I appreciate the fact that the movie didn’t just gloss over their deaths like they were insignificant pawns in the movie’s plot.
Image via Image.Movies.Death
The soldiers at Benghazi were left hung out to dry. That’s just what happened. They were fighting a war in a country that they didn’t love or even want to be in. They were just doing their job for a paycheck, so they could get back home to be with their families. That’s it. Unfortunately, not everyone made it back home safely. In particular, four men perished over the course of those two days in Benghazi, and the movie holds consistent with their deaths. U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, USFS officer Sean Smith, and CIA contractors Tyron ‘Rone’ Woods and Glen Doherty all fell while serving their country.
The most sobering moment of the movie for me was Rone’s death and Jack’s reaction to Rone’s body being carelessly handled. During the previous night, he had fought side by side with his old friend, and they had successfully beaten back numerous attempts by the embassy’s assailants. For a fleeting moment, there seemed to be a chance of exfiltration with reinforcements on the way, but Rone succumbed to one of the mortars lobbed over one of the embassy walls. Jack broke down and wept for Rone. It was as if all of the events from the night prior came to a crescendo, and he couldn’t handle the prospect of losing his best friend.
At the end of the film, Jack calls his wife and tells her that he’s on his way home…for good. “I got lucky. I got lucky.” Once again he weeps because he’s going home, but he also weeps because some of his friends won’t be. I thought Krasinski in this scene did an exceptional bit of acting. His emotion reminded me of Sean Penn in Mystic River when his daughter’s body had been found after a lengthy search. Long gone are the days of Jim Halpert from Scranton, PA.
In my estimation, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is head and shoulders above any of Bay’s other films.
I’m going to give 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi a 93%.