Mitchell Zuckoff’s non-fiction book about the September 11, 2012, attacks on the US Diplomatic Compound in Benghazi, Libya, becomes an action-packed thriller in the hands of “Transformers” franchise director Michael Bay.
This exciting siege film, pitched in the opening credits as a “true story,” plays out more like “Assault on Precinct 13” than “Black Hawk Down.”
Opening in the time leading up to the Benghazi attack – also referred to the Battle of Benghazi – we’re introduced to private security contractors attached to a top secret CIA installation in the city. The specially trained men are former military. We meet Jack Silva (John Krasinski), a former Navy soldier here referenced by a pseudonym, who took the job to help pay bills back home.
His superior and friend is Tyrone “Rone” Woods (a beefed-up James Badge Dale), who is also there mainly for money, but it is hinted at that he likes being in the field (a point better explored in “American Sniper”). Both men are committed to their craft, having sharp skills and deep experience.
Jack and Rone work for a private organization known as the Global Response Staff (“GRS”). Their team is made up of tough, battle-hardened men stationed at a CIA Annex near the Diplomatic Compound first attacked on September 11, 2012. It is that compound that housed American Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, who lost his life in the battle.
Given the fact that the GRS was not an official branch of the US Military, Jack and Rone and their fellow contractors were not “soldiers” in the formal sense. However, due to the heroic acts of the GRS team, they earn the designation of soldier in every way.
Despite the tragic and politically charged backstory, “13 Hours” is entertaining if for no other reason than the thrilling battle sequences. Like other war films of the modern age, director Michael Bay gets the action just about right throughout. He adopts a rather shaky camera approach early and keeps that unnerving visual scope to the bitter end.
Bay’s camera techniques are sometimes taken too far as the frenetic pace is maintained so consistently that viewer overload is reached at times. I had to look down and then back up to keep from becoming dizzy.
While not quite as effective as the action/battle sequences in a film like “Lone Survivor,” Bay’s choices set the appropriate tone. But the dramatic tone of the film takes a decidedly sentimental turn that is a bit over-the-top in the film’s emotional conclusion. Bay delivers shots, including one purportedly showing the body and likeness of the Ambassador that feels a little gratuitous, even insensitive. And the moments leading up to the attacks feature calls home over videoconferencing that seem a little forced.
And instead of being inspired by or based upon the real world events, Bay labels “13 Hours” from the get-go as a “true story.” While I’m not qualified to comment on whether the depictions are entirely accurate, it is hard to believe that everything that transpires in this somewhat manipulative narrative actually occurred as they unfold on screen. Still, some things you just can’t make up.
But this is a ham-fisted slice of pro American story-telling that manages to escape the overtly political underpinnings. Although the failures of the US Government are discussed as the battle rages, Secretary Hillary Clinton needn’t worry too much about this film damaging her campaign.
Certainly, “13 Hours” will play well to conservative viewers, who come to the movie already armed with their own positions on the tragedy. But the picture works mainly as a war/action film and less as one that seeks to inject something new into the debate.