Spoilers ahead for 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi!
Director Michael Bay has returned to the screen in a big way, and it is finally a project that does not involve alien tractor-trailer warriors. His latest film, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, is a visceral, stimulating project grounded in truths that uncovers the real heroes of the Benghazi 911 attack in 2012.
Bay utilizes a capable ensemble cast — headlined by John Krasinski (Aloha) and James Badge Dale (The Walk) — and ably conjures up a covert Middle Eastern CIA outpost. The screenplay, from Chuck Hogan, showrunner of FX’s The Strain, pays the 2012 attack its due diligence, and is in fact an emotional roller-coaster. (The screenplay is based off of the book 13 Hours by Mitchell Zuckoff.)
While the film’s substance comes from the flashy visual effects and concise sound editing, the characters do manage to hold their own (at least John Krasinski’s character Jack Da Silva and Badge Dale’s Tyrone Woods). Bay cuts to the heart of homesickness, and the ever-evolving state of warfare and the soldiers, diplomats, and contractors that participate in it.
While the film does not invoke former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was Ambassador Chris Stevens’s boss, and who has subsequently undergone lengthy rounds of testimony on Capitol Hill, it does poke at the glaring lack of resources that the CIA worked with in a “critically” hostile embassy. So the film’s stirring action scenes do, ipso facto, serve as a commentary on the year’s horrific attack.
Another facet that Bay and Hogan pay careful attention to, and ultimately succeed at, is providing context of the larger cultural revolution that was occurring during the Arab Spring. It also manages to humanize the civilians that had to deal with this embassy bombardment; to them it was simply another fiery day. For example, the main ensemble, the CIA security contractors, frequently call out the “neighbors” who are watching a soccer game as militants run rampant through the streets. “Tig” (Dominic Fumusa) and “Tanto” (Pablo Schreiber) discern that it is simply a “different world.”
While the film seems to drag on at points, director Bay and writer Hogan do go out of their way to get it right, to capture the mindset of all castes — the spies, diplomats, soldiers, civilians, and even the antagonistic gorilla fighters. For that, they deserve respect; they are able to capture the psyche surrounding the embassy in 2012, and brush in helpful tidbits about the people who buttressed it.
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi begins as Jack Da Silva (Krasinski) signs on for security work at the covert CIA outpost (a leased “annex”) in Benghazi. He quickly learns where he lands within the hierarchy — and it’s close to the bottom. CIA Chief (David Costabile) is near retirement, and combative with the “low-lifes” who patrol his compound. The ex-military CIA contractors — Tyrone “Rone” Woods (Badge Dale), Mark “Oz” Geist (Max Martini), John “Tig” Tiegen (Fumusa), Kris “Tanto” Paronto (Schreiber), and Boon (David Denman) — are a bit numb to the work of intel and politics. Nonetheless, they hold down the Chief’s post.
Their work takes on new meaning as they are tasked with helping protect Ambassador Chris Stevens (Matt Letscher), a true-to-his-word diplomat looking to improve the hostile nation of Libya. However, he only has a small security detail. As September 11 approaches, he is told to lie low in his compound; the CIA contractors are up the street a mile away.
Even still, violence breaks out — purportedly from an “anti-Muslim video” that circulated before 911 of that year. Militants first overrun Ambassador Stevens’s compound, and the soldiers are left to watch as it goes up in flames. There, Stevens enters the safe room, but his minimal detail succumbs to the force of the Libyan fighters.
At this point, the six men, led by “Rone,” find themselves at a crossroads. Do they stand up to the Chief who tells them they are not to leave the compound and give up their position? Or do they stay put while the ambassador inhales noxious flames? History tells us that it is the former. The men put up an Alamo-like last stand to protect the compound, the diplomats, and American interests. They’ll have to wait until morning, too, before “friendlies” or some form of military support arrives.
They’ll also be aided by people from the Tripoli embassy team, led by Glen “Bub” Doherty (Toby Stephens, Black Sails), a Global Response Staff officer. But that’s only if that team can maneuver through the Libyan streets and find the annex.
13 Hours is a riotous 144 minutes, marked by extreme highs and moments of dullness that are counteracted by respectable bits of dialogue from the soldiers that viewers come to know. The moral of the story, however, is a certain unity/bond felt by all Americans, and the lengths people will go to to protect her interests. And, while life (or Libyans) can throw some obstacles in the way, Americans will still find a way to be the moral compass of the world.
Bay does not dive into Clintonian politics, which is probably for the best, since the exhaustive testimonies filled us in. But he does create an energetic film that bursts to life with each squeeze of the trigger. Plus, the cinematography from Dion Beebe is so immersive, so lifelike, you will feel as though you’re sweating alongside the contractors in a claustrophobic Libyan room. Everything down to the bricks and mortar is captured neatly on camera.
Overall, there is a strange sort of closure brought to the whole incident by visually seeing it played out. It is probably a film you cannot miss if you are up to speed on current events!
Be sure to catch 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi at a theater near you. And, rest in peace to those who lost their lives that day.
Follow Dan Gunderman on Twitter @dangun127
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