by Robert Joseph Butler
Michael Bay’s brutal and intense 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is his most mature and full realized film to date. The film will likely polarize audiences and critics due to the controversial and political nature of the subject. The film is very challenging to watch due to the tragedy that occurred on the evening of September 11th, 2012, just 11 years after 9/11 where four Americans were left murdered in the hands of Libyan terrorists after an embassy was under siege and attacked, where one of the innocent Americans was U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.
The film is a survivalist military saga in the vein of recent military pictures such as “Lone Survivor”, Katheryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, and Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper. Like those other pictures, 13 Hours is a factual based story based on a 2014 memoir written by journalist Michael Zuckoff who uses the accounts of six American CIA security operators. The saga is a triumphant and a equally tragic account of courage and heroism in the darkest hour.
The book and film is a mesmerizing tale that is harrowing and ideologically focused. Instead of openly criticizing the White House, Hillary Clinton, or President Obama openly, the film allows the viewer to watch the events unfold and to come to their own conclusions of the mismanagement that occurred on that dark day. The film raises some fascinating questions on why the media and White House blamed a YouTube video mocking Muhammad for the senseless attacks, when in fact there was no protest of this before the attack? After all it was an election year and to this date there is many suspicions that the White House covered up the real cause of the attack because it was just two months before the 2012 Presidential Election, where Barack Obama easily won re-election.
The film focuses on Jack Silva (John Krasinski), a former Navy SEAL who has a family back home as he takes a mission in Libya as part of six-man security crew who are ordered to secure a CIA base in Benghazi during a time of upheaval. It was a time where brutal dictator Moammar Gadhafi was just overthrown and where ISIS started to gain control of the land.
The group of six are all ripped and well fit, they fit the Bay stereotype of military machismo, yet here it feels more genuine, authentic and convincing than in his previous films that offer his similar sensibilities. Just weeks before going home to his family, the nearby compound of Chris Stevens (Matt Letscher) is attacked by Islamic militant fighters on the anniversary of 9/11. Emotions run high when the the CIA chief (David Costable) is ordered by the Pentagon to not let let Rone (James Badge Dale) and his team leave the base to help the Ambassador and his security team in need as his compound burns. Eventually things get worse and a war zone breaks out and the security measures become unpredictable and mishandled.
Unfortunately, their mission is compromised once the ferocious attacks occur, several terrorist members are killed, however the American soldiers are outnumbered by enemies who are equipped with rocket-propelled grenades. As the group of six try to protect the embassy, seeking protecting and more assistance from government and military officials who patiently wait for commands from Washington. As they guard the embassy and explosions go off, it’s painful to watch these brave men endure such suffering.
As a director, Michael Bay makes a huge improvement in his skills as a director and storyteller compared to his previous efforts that mostly include summer franchises like the disastrous Transformers sequels, and the forgettable Pearl Harbor. With impressive staging of action set-pieces, he uses them with slick pacing and the end result is an impressive action thriller. Bay has turned essential historical events into a rapid cutting and harrowing film experience. This is by far Michael Bay’s most accomplished and important film to date.