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USA 2016
Directed by
Michael Bay
144 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Andrew Lee
3 stars

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Synopsis: A dramatisation of the assault and defence of the US embassy in Benghazi, Libya in 2012..

Michael Bay is getting better. I never thought I’d write that sentence, because while the original Transformers was a solid piece of entertainment, the sequels were awash with technical mastery but little else. If Bay, the film technician, has long been one of the best, Bay the filmmaker seemed just to have gone along with blowing stuff up willy-nilly and hoping that it kept the audience interested. Then came Pain & Gain, which I’m not willing to call a good film but it wasn’t bad and albeit obnoxious, it was entertaining, What could have been a sly commentary on the American Dream was just a surface level black comedy with some jarring visual flourishes that felt inappropriate to the fact that it was based on a true story (and there was  the rather unpleasant fact that it made the victim seem deserving of his fate, something which resulted in a lawsuit).

Which brings us to 13 Hours, another film based on a true story. And here, Bay pays serious respect to the people involved. Anyone interested in military tactics or the weird intersections between the US military, CIA and private contractors will find a film that shows the complexities of the employer-employee model. Indeed it’s a situation that will probably resonate with contractors of all stripes, not just private military ones.

But while it might look at the microcosm of state and corporate military, anyone looking for an in-depth examination of the geopolitical situation would be advised to look elsewhere. This is a film dedicated to celebrating the US military machine, flaws and all, and much like Black Hawk Down, it follows all the standard clichés. Men talking to their families, talking about their families, and then reluctantly shooting down hordes of faceless brown people who are angry about something to do with the US that’s never addressed or explored. Midway through the action I found myself thinking that we’d gone a long time without being reminded of these men’s families, and right on cue, a guy grabs a photo of his children and tucks it into his body armour. Then he goes and shoots some more people. That’s the kind of film we’ve got here. A film honouring the men who protected the Benghazi intelligence base and saved the lives of a significant number of CIA and State Department officials. It’s a “we support our boys” kind of deal, so really, it could hardly be anything other than what it is and it’s probably misguided to expect otherwise.

What the film does well is show you how a small team of highly trained men took control of a situation and defended it against some fairly heavy odds. It also touches on the factional rivalry in post-Gaddafi Libya and the confusion and shifting alliances. But only lightly, we never really learn much about it.

That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of failings to the film. I couldn’t tell you the names of any of the characters, and at one point I thought that they said someone was dead and it turned out to be someone else. But that’s the same kind of criticism I’d level at Black Hawk Down. Character isn’t really the focus here, it’s military tactics and lots of shooting. So if you enjoyed Black Hawk Down, then you’ll enjoy this film too. They’re pretty much on a par, and while it feels weird to put Michael Bay in the same standing as Ridley Scott, here it’s deserved.




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