13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi Review

by Jordan Butchen & Jake Leshem

13 Hours serves as a powerful memorial to the bravery of the men and women who fought against impossible odds for what they believed in. The movie recounts the recent tale of the American combatants who fought and died in Benghazi, Libya on September 11-12, 2012.

When the film was first announced, many were skeptical as to whether director Michael Bay, who is known for including excessive violence and action sequences in his pictures, would be capable of handling such a serious topic. The film does possess some flaws, partly based on the director’s decisions, but these issues do not detract from it being one of the best war movies in recent memory.

This true story of a small group of CIA contractors is an edge-of-your-seat, white-knuckle thrill ride that grabs you by the throat from the start and never releases until its final moments.

Purely as an action film, the movie makes use of its high production values without sacrificing its sense of realism. There is a continuing trend in this genre of film that glorifies the experience of war; however, Bay subverts expectations by skillfully offering an authentic portrayal of the confusion, exhaustion, and fear surrounding this incident.

The film’s script is impressive, proving to be quite informative even with the constraint of fitting the entire story within a two-and-a-half hour timeframe. Critics might argue that 13 Hours is not entirely accurate, but the film makes an honest effort to correctly portray an event that is still clouded in uncertainty over the exact happenings.

Praise should be given to the fact that the movie skillfully avoids making a political statement. Critics of the incident have chosen to place blame on the Obama administration, specifically Hilary Clinton, but Bay wisely avoids addressing these claims. Instead, the director plays to his strengths by crafting a highly entertaining picture with no political undertones.

One of the largest criticisms that can be directed at the film is its inability to devote enough time to developing its characters’ personalities. The late U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens (Matt Letscher) plays a central role in the plot, but is delegated to what could be considered a cameo. The deaths of the soldiers who perished in the attack appear to be glossed over with little attention devoted towards recognizing their demise. This is even truer for some of the supporting characters, who are barely given screen time.

Instead, Bay places a much greater focus on depicting the assault with stylistic, slow-motion shots of the mortar fire that killed the soldiers. This is disappointing given the film’s effort to honor these Americans, because the stylistic touches reduce the emotional impact of the scenes.

Overall, this was a well-crafted movie that largely succeeds based on its impressive action sequences, fast pace, and respect for those involved in the event. Bay has finally managed to make a film that forgoes abandoning a plot and deep emotional context for the sake of action. There is a struggle, at times, to balance visuals and character development, but this does not stop 13 Hours from taking its place as one of the best early movies of 2016.

(photo source: filmschoolrejects)

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