Say the word Benghazi in the wrong company and you may very well have walked into the most awkward 15-minutes of your life. It’s a controversy that has permeated the political system for two years and promises to continue at least through the general election. So how do you approach this story from a Hollywood perspective? Well it’s simple, you completely ignore it! Director Michael Bay has decided instead to focus on a small group of former military men turned security detail who tried desperately to save the ambassador and a small faction of CIA and state officials that remained in Libya after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. It is an incredible true story and one that deserves to be told. But wow, did we have to hire the Director of Transformers to tell it?
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is not a complete whiff by Bay. He can certainly stage an action scene even if he undermines the incredible work of these former soldiers by focusing on his really cool explosions rather than their valor and teamwork. But I couldn’t shake the fact that it’s such a weird marriage of material and Director. Regardless of the attempts to remove this piece of the story from the geopolitical controversy Bay can’t help but stumble into it. When he has to engage it he’d rather show slow motion shirtless dudes doing pull ups then add any subtext to his story.
It’s almost admirable how dumb and disengaged Bay is. He wants absolutely nothing to do with the controversy but would rather craft his own Black Hawk Down. The problem is Bay lacks the visual coherency or tact of Ridley Scott’s incredible war epic.
Here John Krasinksi is Jack Silva. Silva takes a security contract in Benghazi after his efforts to assimilate stateside as a real estate agent have gone south. He’s a former Navy Seal and former paper salesman (you’ll never get out of the Dunder Mifflin shadow John!) He joins his friend and former-Seal Rone Woods (James Badge Dale) who leads a small security detail at a covert CIA base. The U.S. is the last nation with a presence in Libya after the collapse and this base and one tiny diplomatic outpost (basically a mini embassy) are the only two safe zones.
Rone ensures Silva that this is some basic security work for the CIA as they gather intel about the new regimes attempting to grasp power – and after a couple boring missions it seems that way. Not until a surprise visit by Ambassador Chris Stevens do things get dicey for the crew. Almost immediately Stevens presence is outed by the Libyan press and on lookers don’t take long to start loitering around the outpost.
When the inevitable siege on the Ambassador’s compound occurs 13 Hours actually gains some much needed focus. Bay excels with macho bravado bullshit and when he distills that down to shooting stuff and shouting it can actually be pretty compelling. Rone, Silva and the other buff guys are convincing in these scenes and I was surprised by how interesting the entire thing became.
The central problem of 13 Hours is in the setup. Without any interest in the larger conflict Bay attempts to flesh out his characters with laughably cheesy flashbacks and dialogue from GI: Joe cartoons. It’s precisely this lack of tact that undermines the incredible bravery of these 6-men. Bay rushes their backstories in favor of hysterically homoerotic workout montages and lite discussion on bureaucracy and it’s many shortcomings (just kidding it’s mostly them playing video games and cleaning their guns.)
13 Hours is a truly amazing story that I knew nothing about in the scheme of the controversy and it’s been given the full Transformers treatment. Even when Krasinski manages to squeeze some real emotion out of the final moments I couldn’t help but feel Bay never earned it. His actors are committed and this story deserves to be told. Maybe one day it will be.