Review: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

There are three types of movies: good movies, bad movies, and Michael Bay movies. It’s not that Bay’s movies can’t be good or bad; they have a certain aesthetic that makes them unique. Bay’s use of shadows, manipulating scenes with upward camera angles, and non-stop explosions are staples in his films. Nobody does explosions like Michael Bay.

Bay’s latest film, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi has all his tricks on display. Some add to the movie while others distract from the story aka Good Michael Bay vs. Bad Michael Bay.

13 Hours, based on the 2012 book by Mitchell Zuckoff, stars The Office’s John Krasinski as Jack – a former Marine who joins the GRS (Global Response Staff) security team hired to guard the CIA Annex in Benghazi, Libya. On September 11, 2012, a group of Islamist militia attack a U.S diplomatic outpost a mile from the Annex. The six-man GRS team, comprised of military veterans, are the only people capable of saving U.S Ambassador Chris Stevens and his staff members who are trapped inside the compound.

Good Michael Bay: Action, action, and action. From slow-motion explosions to rapid gunfire, Bay’s greatest talent is his ability to make the audience feel like they’re in the middle of the action. Every explosion and stray bullet ricochet feels like it’s happening next to you. There’s nothing subtle about the action that takes place, especially during the final act.

The best action sequence involves a bulletproof vehicle being hit with a barrage of bullets as it makes its way back to the Annex.

Bad Michael Bay: There’s zero context for what’s happening on screen. The Islamic militia is nameless/faceless brown people whose only purpose is to be gunned down (one guy is literally cut in half). Why they seize the compound is never explained. Why the CIA is operating in Benghazi is never explained. Why the U.S Government never intervened is never explained.

Without any context, the film is porn for people who love Call of Duty. It’s America’s bravest soldiers shooting an endless number of terrorist for 144 minutes. The GRS sits on top of buildings as wave after wave of militia show up to the Annex. This happens three times, and each time feels like the first, only remixed.

Bay’s biggest tragedy is not detailing how brave the men who sacrificed their lives were – the ones who died and the ones who survived. The story should show how helpless being stuck in an urban firefight for 13 hours is. Or how confusing Benghazi is when you don’t know who’s friendly and who isn’t. The film yadda-yaddas the “stand down” order when it should be the most significant scene in the film. Instead, the brave GRS team is treated like cartoonish military contract workers. The ending attempt to pull at your heart strings fails because the beginning of the film doesn’t do anything to earn an emotional response. If eye-rolling counts as an emotional response, it definitely earned that.

In another director’s hands, 13 Hours is ½ political drama, ½ action movie. With Bay, its all action, even when that action cheapens the story he’s trying to tell. With shows like Homeland, The Americans, and movies like Zero Dark Thirty, just having testosterone filled action isn’t enough. Audiences crave sharp storytelling as much as good action. More than anything, 13 Hours is a missed opportunity. Lost between an orchestra of explosions and chaotic actions sequences are pieces to a really good political action thriller. Michael Bay does a lot of things well, but the touch needed to make a war thriller isn’t in his bag of tricks.

Grade: C