Title: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
Release Date: January 15th, 2016
Studio: Dune Films
Director: Michael Bay
Release Format: Theatrical
Michael Bay is probably one of the most polarizing directors in the modern era, as his films are loathed and loved by many. Given his success directing films based on childhood franchises, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is clearly trying to distance itself from Bay’s recent filmography. 13 Hours is a far more entertaining film than you might expect, offering a great lead performance and stellar action. Though it has some noticeable flaws, the film has a whole was a fairly entertaining and notable portrayal of the six men and their harrowing journey.
For those who may not know, 13 Hours follows the true story of six ex-soldiers turned security contractors stationed in Benghazi, Libya during 2012. During the 9/11 anniversary, a set of American owned installations are assaulted over the course of, you guessed it, 13 hours by a gang of armed militants. It’s a fairly straightforward story to tell, but Bay makes the smart choice to ignore the political stances around these events. This story isn’t about if a certain presidential candidate knew ahead of time or not, it’s a tribute to the soldiers who fought that night. 13 Hours has a certain intimacy to it, forcing you to get into the gritty reality that these six men endure. Yet, on the occasion, Bay pulls out of this conflict to see how the rest of the world is reacting it breaks the “in the moment” feeling that 13 Hours excels in. One of the best aspects of the film is that you are kept in the dark for a lot of what is happening outside of Benghazi, allowing the tension to unfold more organically. However, the problem is the story really doesn’t develop any of the characters aside from the main contractor Jack Silva (John Krasinski,) so some of the big emotional beats are not as impactful as they should be.
Don’t get me wrong the cast does a fine job portraying their roles, but most of them are very interchangeable. With the exception of Jack and maybe his friend Rone (James Badge Dale) the majority of the supporting cast are fairly wooden. They lack individual personalities that can help set them apart, which makes the other four men fade into the background of the conflict. You can tell there was an idea to give the different contractors more of a backstory, but this is only briefly teased right before the action. This is probably one of 13 Hours biggest issues, as those big emotional highpoints never really hit their mark. There is no emotional investment made aside from Jack, so certain events near the end of the movie just feel rudimentary. Bay also hints at how being away from one’s family so long can put a strain on the relationship, but it once again is never developed. There’s a nugget of an idea there, however, it lacks any real depth or development. Instead, Bay goes right for the age old adage of “War is Hell,” instead of focusing on more interesting concepts.
Krasinski steals the show on this one, giving probably the best performance I have ever seen from him. Jack is more than just another military man, as there is some true emotional depth that helps him break cliches. Jack is a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders and Krasinski does an admirable job portraying this in all its grit and glory. If the story itself was willing to open up more and help develop his character further, this could be one of the best performances in a modern military film. As mentioned before, the supporting cast does a decent job playing their parts; but they are incredibly interchangeable. The CIA chief (David Costabile) has a paper thin personality that refuses to develop even an ounce during the entire film. He is just there to act as a foil for the six soldiers but never comes into his own as a character. In fact, this rule pretty much goes for anyone that’s part of the CIA staff as their involvement in Benghazi feels tacked on only because the story demanded it.
However, this is a Michael Bay movie so the action is naturally quite the spectacle. Unlike some of Bay’s more recent work, the fighting is far less flashy and attempts to be more realistic. I say attempts to because Bay can never seem to quite make the violence convincing. Instead, the violence waivers between Transformers excessively unrealistic explosions and Black Hawk Downs unrelenting grittiness. This gives 13 Hours a bit of an identity crisis as moments that should be seen as horrific are comically sidelined by excessively big explosions. Thankfully Bay reigns in the camera a bit more than usual, minimizing shaky camera and trying to give us clearer shots of what is happening. The cinematography is passable, but it’s really nothing special or noteworthy. The same thing goes for the score and editing, as the film doesn’t take any real risks when it comes to the actual production of the movie.
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi isn’t an awful movie, in fact the film itself was fairly entertaining as a whole. It does have some story and character development issues, but overall the movie gives a more human face to the conflict. Whether it’s worth the trip to the theater is up for debate, but I would recommend putting preconceived notions about Bay aside. This is a film for adults and for the most part 13 Hours has a far more mature tone to it. It proves Bay has the capability to make truly human stories, whether he continues this trend is up for debate.
- Acting: John Krasinski gives one of the best performances of his career, offering the character of Jack a more complex and compelling dynamic to him. Sadly these emotional nuances are not carried by the rest of the cast as they are easily interchangeable and forgettable. No other cast member’s performance really stands out, putting almost all of the emotional duties on Krasinski’s acting.
- Cinematography: The editing, production, and filming it plays it fairly safe. Bay doesn’t take any real risks or artistic choices, but thankfully the shaky camera movements are minimal this time around.
- Story: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi does a commendable job telling a more personal story, avoiding any real political controversies surrounding the attack. The film does lean heavily on the old war cliches, only hinting at a few deeper messages throughout.
- Characters: Aside from the leading character of Jack, almost every single supporting cast member are uninteresting. With the lack of a clear antagonist, the main attackers are just as paper thin. With only two of the six soldiers receiving some sort development, it only highlights how much substances is lack from the rest of the characters.
- Krasinski's Performance
- Tells a More Human Story
- Adult Tone
- Dull Supporting Cast
- Action Has An Identity Crisis
- Doesn't Develop Deeper Messages
A recent graduate of Arcadia University, Collin MacGregor is a freelance video editor and writer. He covers video games, television, and film for The Nerd Stash. Collin currently is the head film/television reviewer for the site.