"13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi" (2016) - Rated R / Runtime: 144 minutes
Review by JJ Mortimer
Michael Bay's 13 Hours is not only a good return to form for the director, but is a taut, action-packed film that smartly presents facts at hand and the military prowess of the ill-fated attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, while avoiding any political rhetoric that has plagued the situation since it occurred. 13 Hours allows the audience to see the action and hear the dialogue between the soldiers and secret C.I.A. operatives who were involved, while letting us make our own minds up on just how much of a cluster-fuck the whole situation was and how poorly it was handled.
All the actors involved got physically and emotionally into their roles, much like the actors of other high-profile military movies of the past few years (Lone Survivor, American Sniper, Zero Dark Thirty). James Badge Dale and Jon Krasinski act the hell out of their roles, especially a physically ripped Krasinski who surprises on just how much he has progressed since his days of comedic roles and lighthearted fare. Scenes later in the film between Dale and Krasinski, who play Navy SEALS Tyrone Woods and Jack Silva, respectively, are particularly powerful, with a couple moments damn-near tear jerking. The emotional buildup between the two men and their families gives the final act of the film the punch in the gut we all deserve.
What I liked most about 13 Hours was how well it captured and illustrated the chaos in Libya, and how little we as American citizens know about what it's like for our soldiers to operate in the Middle East. Everyone is perceived as an enemy, and not until a bullet is fired toward your body are you completely sure of whether you can defend your life or not. Seeing the soldiers utterly confused as to what the hell is going on in the streets outside the embassy is frustrating, to say the least.
Michael Bay delivers his usual sense of bombast in the well-choreographed action scenes, with a more subdued eye in the penchant for over-editing that was apparent in his other action films as of late. There are some moments where some of the dialogue comes off a little corny and/or doesn't quite fit in with the scene (especially with actor Pablo Schreiber who portrayed Kris 'Tanto' Paronto), but in the end it didn't quite take away from caring about the characters - men who so effortlessly put their lives on the line to save others - in their final stand at what can only be described as "The Alamo in 2012."
In the end, 13 Hours has a few Michael Bay moments with pumped-up Hollywood-style action and one-liners that may not fit in with the perceived realism of the situation, but many of the actors (with special note to character actor Max Martini who has been showing up in everything lately) delve into their roles and portray their real-life counterparts with equal parts patriotic respect and emotional heft so well, that the shortcomings are easily forgiven. It should also be noted that I didn't feel that this was a political film AT ALL, which makes many of critics who derided the film based on said notion a complete and unfortunate bias toward what the film actually displayed - a good old-fashioned American action film based on real life events that became "political" when politics should not have been involved. And may God bless the fallen "secret soldiers" and ambassador Chris Stevens.
13 Hours is one of the few films I've seen since last summer that I would consider seeing more than once with my complete attention.