On paper, the notion of Michael Bay helming a retelling of the 2012 Benghazi attack should be enough to cause your eyes to roll back so far they detach; here’s the shocker however: 13 Hours is a surprisingly effective war movie. Turning his weakness into strength (however involuntarily), Bay’s juddering ADD-riddled visuals are perfectly placed here; in combat, the results are predictable enough, naturally – but it’s in the lead-up to said combat that the helmer’s cognitively fidgeting nature winds up serving a brilliant sense of paranoia, perfectly tuned for the story being told.
13 Hours (the opening titles mercifully drop the clunky Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi subtitle) recounts the events of September 11, 2012; a night on which a US diplomatic compound and CIA annex were attacked by Islamic militants. With no air support and back-up hours away, the defence of both American assets fell to just six private military contractors. But as wave after wave of enemies come for them, the night takes a toll; souls are searched, orders are defied, and spotting ally from enemy becomes increasingly difficult.
Startlingly devoid of any kind of political stance, there’s a heavy feeling of Black Hawk Down going on throughout 13 Hours. Like Ridley Scott’s film, 13 Hours also employs something of an unfocused ebb-and-flow sensibility to its story; however, being a Bay movie, said story is complimented by the most heavy-handed combat cinematography since Lone Survivor. The Town writer Chuck Hogan does his best to add sincere characters to the mix; and, for the most part, does an admirable job under the circumstances, however the story as a whole simply doesn’t allow for much in the way of fully-fledged characterisation.
A stifled sense of characterisation however is somewhat easily overcome by a game cast delivering a bevy of solid performances. James Badge Dale finally gets the lead role he’s been so desperately in need of for a decade now, and makes for a very effective CO figure. The Office’s John Krasinski meanwhile – undergoing a full-blown physical transformation – provides his audience surrogate with a likeable everyman sensibility, Max Martini revisits his years on TV’s The Unit without skipping a beat, and Orange Is The New Black’s Pablo Schreiber provides a well balanced comic relief without ever really taking away from the reality of the situation.
A rock solid pulse-pounding war movie which will doubtless find its way onto many a DVD shelf to sit alongside the likes of American Sniper, Act Of Valor, et al; 13 Hours has the feel of a coda to the militarised Jerry Bruckheimer-Michael Bay troupe (yet, clearly, will be no such thing). The first movie in a good long while that Bay hasn’t seemingly made exclusively for the amusement of fifteen year-old boys, it sets out for and finds the perfect ground in providing a completely immersive “you’re in it” war scenario, which neither particularly glamorises nor celebrates as much – though, it must be said, the film is naturally viscerally violent at times. As far as Bay’s helmsmanship goes however, 13 Hours nevertheless contains all of the [sl]auteur’s hallmarks – first person shooter shots, occasionally moronic dialogue (“everyone’s a bad guy until they’re not”), the Pearl Harbor shot of a falling missile, excessive lens flare and even the director’s latest inclusion of a dawn shot smack in the middle of a night scene – it’s a Bay film through and through. The real kicker is though: it’s a pretty good one.
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi is in cinemas nationwide from Friday, January 29th; rated 15. Check out the trailer below.