13 Hours: The Secret Soliders of Benghazi is, The Rock excluded, the best film that Michael Bay has ever made; but then that isn’t saying much, is it? To say that the film-maker’s previous efforts have been problematic, would be a huge understatement. Generally his films are bloated, action heavy machismo-fests that have nonsensical plots; not to mention the troublesome, leering way in which the director always seems to shoot his leading ladies.
So, with that in mind, I was genuinely surprised on leaving the screening of his latest effort to find that I was battle fatigued, slightly dazed, but otherwise relatively unscathed. This was okay, in some places this was excellent, and it was made by Michael Bay of all people?!
Away from the mess of metal robots punching each other, 13 Hours is Bay’s most politically charged film to date, telling the true story of a group of soliders charged with the protection of a secret CIA outpost in a post-Gadaffi Libya. When a US embassador’s compound comes under attack from Libya’s citizens, the team of highly skilled operatives must risk revealing their location to save the man, and a subsequent battle rages on for the next 13 hours.
The biggest issue with the film, however, is the fact that Bay doesn’t do politics very well. He’s a director who has about as much subtlety as a punch in the face, and so any kind of political context for the story is all but absent, apart from the opening credits which literally spell out the set-up for us. This means things can get very confusing, very quickly, with hardly any information provided as to who the Americans are fighting and what their motives may be.
It’s disappointing as, toward the beginning of the film, James Badge Dale’s Tyrone ‘Rone’ Woods tells the newest solider to join their ranks, John Krasinski’s Jack SIlva, that it’s difficult to tell who the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys’ are in Benghazi. The promise of ambiguity is one that is sadly unfulfilled, and the rest of the film does play out as an almost Cowboys vs Indians-type story. The Americans are the good guys here, and everyone else are the bad guys.
Over the course of its bloated two-hour-plus running time, this point is overstretched. There are countless slow motion shots of the American flag either being shot at by nameless Muslims, or in other states of damage. Within the last hour in particular, we are reminded time and time again by supporting characters that, unless something is done soon, Americans are going to die! In the film’s final moments, there’s even a shot taken from the news, of a Libyan holding up a sign apologising to America, as if to appease the anger of the nation.
Whilst the politics and portrayals are problematic, there’s no denying the fact that the battle sequences are handled expertly. If the goal behind the film is to put us, the audience, right in the middle of the bullets, bombs and blood, then it certainly achieves that. There are moments such as the assault on the US embassador’s home, that are visceral and intense bordering on stressful. In these moments, 13 Hours is excellent.
Letting it down is the usual machismo that you would expect from a Bay film, with a particular appreciation for the soliders’ bronzed, muscular bodies and a fetishistic focus on guns.
It isn’t all bad though, and if you can look past the propagandistic elements to the picture, there’s some really good stuff in there; namely the aforementioned action sequences. However, as the politics of the situation all but disappear, with the focus placed firmly on the battle, 13 Hours feels less Zero Dark Thirty and more Zero Dark Hurty.
Image credit to http://www.impawards.com