I’ve always been annoyed when politicians try and use movies to score points for their respective viewpoints. That was the case with “Zero Dark Thirty” in 2012 and is so again with “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.” This new Michael Bay film tells the story of a CIA security team responding to militant attacks on both an American diplomatic compound in Libya as well as their nearby annex in September 2012. There’s been much speculation about how the movie might either help or hurt former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. I have good news to report: Like the Mitchell Zuckoff book it’s based on, the script by Chuck Hogan (“The Town”) does not take a political slant. The focus here is on the security personnel who faced a very fluid and dangerous situation.
A buffed-up John Krasinski (Jim Halpert from “The Office” sitcom) stars as a former Navy Seal who says goodbye to his family to once again become a security contractor. He’s part of a team that includes hardened ex-military guys with nicknames like, “Tanto,” “Tig’, “Oz,” and “Boon.” All of them are very aware of the rapidly deteriorating situation in Libya and the constantly shifting loyalties of some of the local security forces.
Director Michael Bay has often been guilty of going too over-the-top with films like “The Rock” and the “Transformers” series. Too often he’s cranked things up to “10” when a “6” would do. With “13 Hours” however, he’s crafted a movie where the tension builds steadily and effectively, creating a sense of imminent danger just by using a quick shot of someone on a cell phone. Is that a civilian…or a militant? The claustrophobia the audience feels when the teams drive through the narrow and crowded Benghazi streets is intense. (By the way, the movie was shot primarily in Malta, as well as Morocco)
The battle scenes are also edge-of-your-seat stuff, with plenty of night vision shots, of the bad guys creeping up on the annex containing the far-outnumbered security personnel. When the shooting starts, it’s time to reach for the ear plugs as the filmmakers seemed to have a huge ammo budget that they were determined to use in its entirety.
Some of the best moments however are the small scenes between the security contractors where we find out more about their lives and backgrounds. Particularly memorable is Pablo Schreiber (the slimy, mustached prison guard from “Orange is the New Black”) who is the master of the well-time observation.
The movie does a have a few weak points. Some of the characters come off as one-dimensional – especially the sniveling CIA Chief who insults the security team with such gems as, “You’re just the hired help.” Also, director Bay is starting to re-use a few of his previous shots. One in particular is a point-of-view sequence that traces a mortar shell as it flies through the air, and then descends and explodes. It’s a cool shot, but is almost identical to one he used in “Pearl Harbor” and was featured in that film’s trailer.
Despite those few negatives, “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” is an intense, riveting action film that sheds light on a tragic event but also highlights some extreme heroism.
3 Stars out of 4