13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016)

When everything went wrong, six men had the courage to do what was right.

Benghazi, Libya, 2012. In the wake of a brutal uprising that saw Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi killed, Benghazi is named one of the most dangerous places in the world as various turf wars break out. All countries have abandoned their embassies fearing attacks, save for a modest United States C.I.A. outpost, which according to official record ‘doesn’t exist.’

The hard-lined ‘Chief’ (David Costabile) keeps a small team of six special operations soldiers onsite including tough leader Tyrone ‘Rone’ Woods (James Badge Dale) and his newly posted friend, a Punisher logo-wearing Jack Silva (John Krasinski) to protect the staff. When U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens (Matt Letscher) visits to reassure the locals of an independent, democratic future, he unwittingly becomes a target, sparking a chain of relentless attacks against the Americans that slowly but surely pushes them into protecting their outpost at all costs.

‘When are we gettin' to the fireworks factory?’
‘When are we gettin’ to the fireworks factory?’

If you’re familiar with director Michael Bay’s career, you may be aware that he’s long had a genuine love and respect for the American military, often working with them in his movies and portraying them in a positive, heroic light. (No seriously, no need to scoff). Why it’s taken so long for the filmmaker to directly tackle a military story of this kind is an interesting question to ponder.

Sure, there was Pearl Harbor (2001), but that was a large-scale defeat, one that was very difficult to find a real up-end for, hence the Titanic-esque take with a love triangle in the midst of the chaos. And of course, the first three Transformers films (2007 – 2011) had the military team ‘N.E.S.T.’ working with the titular robots. But a fully gung-ho style Bay film wholly centered on American soldiers making a stand? That, believe it or not, is actually new material for the 51-year-old director.

Not surprisingly, Bay’s aggressive action style of filmmaking fits really well with the intense true story material of 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, so much so, I couldn’t help but think that Bay wouldn’t be too out of place as a soldier himself, being a man of decisive ‘do or die’ manners.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is effectively Bay’s version of Black Hawk Down (2001) or perhaps even an answer to his sometimes similar blockbuster compatriot Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor (2013). It has the same hard, gruff and dirty exterior and only momentarily pauses to contemplate how these men ended up in such bedlam. You won’t find the sombre tone of a war movie like Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line (1998) as the unrelenting antagonistic forces that be, simply don’t allow our characters, or the audience for that matter, much room to breathe. Once the Hellish nightmare begins, it actually feels as though it won’t ever end.

The Hangover: Part 4
The Hangover: Part 4

And … that could very well be a problem for some viewers — the film does feel long, the action a virtually constant barrage when it begins, but really, it’s part of the very point. Thirteen hours is a long hard battle, especially with only six soldiers. They feel it. So too the audience. This isn’t action of a fun ‘rollercoaster’ kind, it’s one where tomorrow seems like it may never come and any chance of survival paid with an exhausting, brutal cost.

John Krasinski, Aloha (2015), who plays Jack Silva carries the bulk of emotionally identifying with the audience and does a reasonable job. Hackneyed scenes of a soldier’s family life could (at first) promote little more than groans and eye-rolls from viewers, but as the warzone bears down on Silva, his private life does feel important, effectively raising the personal stakes.

David Costabile’s Chief bears the brunt of a story that clearly points the finger at the inactions of high-powered bureaucrats – his character is quite paper-thin as a result. One can practically feel how much writer Chuck Hogan, The Town (2010), and Michael Bay want to punch this dude in the face. A bit more depth would’ve helped humanize Costabile’s disagreeable C.I.A. base commander.

My personal highlight though, was the sardonic but dependable Dave ‘Boon’ Benton, played by David Denman, The Gift (2015). His short, sharp quips in the heat of tension managed to raise a momentary smirk, before heading back into the hard violence of combat.

Let the Bayhem begin!
Let the Bayhem begin!

If you can believe it, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, while still incorporating enough of his classic ‘take it or leave it’ tropes, is actually Michael Bay restrained in many ways. As such, I do believe fans of war/military pictures will find this an enjoyably tense time at the movies, regardless of their feelings towards Bay-branded entertainment.

Load up and keep your eyes open. It’s gonna be a long night.

3.5 / 5 – Great

Reviewed by Steve Ramsie

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is released through Paramount Pictures Australia