How do you suck the life, all meaning and purpose, out of a tragedy that is still fresh in the minds of the American public? Apparently the answer to that question is to hire Michael Bay to direct a film adaptation of it. 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (opening today), is the “true story” of the raid on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, that claimed the life of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens back in 2012. It doesn’t feel like three years have passed since that horrific event, mostly because it is still lingering in the news surrounding Hillary Clinton’s role in the event. Bay manages to create a film that fits perfectly into his canon of mostly hollow, meaningless action movies that he has become known for over his long, commercially-successful career.
Look no further than Bay’s four Transformer movies, his two Bad Boys films, or films like The Rock, Armageddon and Pearl Harbor, if you are skimming for what 13 Hours “feels” like. Bay’s universe includes massive explosions, sexy vehicles and not one camera tripod to be found apparently (the “shaky cam” approach is used throughout 13 Hours, to dizzying affect). It includes faux-sentimental speeches, flawless heroes and a penchant for the over-dramatic score. You don’t go to a Michael Bay movie for a dose of reality, or a history lesson. You go for the carnage.
And when the topic is a robot invasion or fictional cops, at least Michael Bay’s brand can be stomached. But by tackling not only a real occurrence, but a very recent, fresh one, Bay manages not only a misfire, but one that borders on insulting and offensive to those who were involved.
The biggest problem is that the Benghazi attack and the circumstances surrounding it, are not put in any sort of context for the audience. You might as well have turned on a video game, picked up the controller and started shooting at whatever the game informs you is the enemy. Context could have helped this film immensely, but instead it decides to use tired Hollywood tropes to set-up characters that it hopes you invest deeply in. But don’t worry, the swelling music in the background will cue you as to when you should care.
The film focuses on an independent security team (portrayed by John Krasinski of “The Office,” James Badge Dale, Pablo Schreiber, David Denman and Dominic Fumusa) and the chaotic situation they found themselves in when the Embassy was suddenly overthrown by vicious militants. Bay’s version of the enemy gives them the same skillful aim of an army of blind StormTroopers, but I digress. Under-manned and with no immediate help coming, these brave soldiers had to secure themselves and protect those around them for as long as they could, despite the ongoing onslaught.
Of course, the terrible attack ended with the death of our Ambassador, an occurrence that has since been politicized. The film at least has the decency to not show Ambassador Stevens’s death on-screen, but it does suggest that the powers-that-be, had they allowed our Secret Soldiers to act sooner, would have been able to prevent that outcome. There is a version of this story that could have been meaningful, where the attack and the losses could have meant something. But this opportunity was side-stepped in favor of a series of explosions, many of which are in slow-motion or way larger than they should have been (each and every car in the film explodes as if it had been rigged with TNT).
What is really unbelievable in this “true story” is that the Americans that were close to the Ambassador were apparently being overseen by a tyrannical villain named Bob (David Costabile, the chemist Gale Boetticher from Breaking Bad). He is the sort of bad manager only found in the movies, where he has it out for the good guys for no known reason, and impedes our heroes from doing their jobs.
But the worst offense in the film is its attempt to strike a comedic, light-hearted tone throughout. This is not a funny story. Yet all of the soldiers have enough one-liners ready to fire as they do bullets. How and why should the story of this catastrophe be made light of? The script is almost as reprehensible as having cast John Krasinski in the key dramatic role. At no time was he able to ascend being seen as Jim from The Office. I kept waiting for him to look at the camera and make a face.
13 Hours feels even longer, and is just a travesty on many levels. Sure, the movie is patriotic, almost to propaganda-like levels, but Michael Bay should be ashamed of himself. And that’s saying quite a lot.
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Thriller
Run Time: 2 hours, 36 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck
Co-Written & Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman, Biutiful, Babel, 21 Grams)
Opens locally on Friday, Jan 8, 2016 (check for show times).