Review: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi Feels 13 Hours Long
Title: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
Director: Michael Bay
Screenwriter: Chuck Hogan (screenplay) and Michael Zuckoff (book ‘13 Hours’)
Principal Cast: John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Pablo Schreiber, David Denman, Dominic Fumusa, and Max Martini
Summary: An American Ambassador in killed during an attack on a U.S. controlled compound in Libya as a security team struggles to make sense out of the chaos
There are several reasons why every alarm that could possibly go off in my head went off when I started to read about 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. The first was the release date because January is a dumping ground for movies that aren’t very good. The second was the director because this seemed like the kind of story that needed to be told but not from someone like Michael Bay. This is a story that should have been told by a serious filmmaker who would take the material in the direction it needed to go. The third was the two and a half hour running time. Very few movies can pull off that running time. I’m not going to say I went in hating 13 Hours but I went in with low expectations.
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi has an interesting story and has a lot to say about the events in question, but thanks to the director it becomes nearly unwatchable by the end.
I feel like it needs to be said that my dislike of the movie in no way demonstrates a lack of respect for the soldiers that are being portrayed on screen or anyone who choses to serve our country. My criticism of the movie is not a criticism of them because I feel like a lot of people are going to take it that way. I was listening to interviews with the soldiers in question and they said they wanted to show the incident in Benghazi without all the politicizing that it is being shrouded in and I agree with that. The soldiers are all well acted and the actors do a great job of showing that camaraderie that comes from being in a situation like that (even if it does get almost comically homoerotic at times). However, Michael Bay was not the man to choose to tell this story.
The first thing that really annoyed me about 13 Hours is that Bay has not figured out how to hold a camera steady. In an action scene a sense of space is important. You need to know where everyone is located so you can follow the scene. If you can’t remember where anyone is the scene becomes forgettable. In this case a hand held camera could have been used to really put you into the action a la the opening scene to Saving Private Ryan. In 13 Hours the camera swings around so much that if this was being shown in IMAX 3D I probably would have gotten motion sickness. It also made every scene forgettable because I had no idea what was going on. I understand that neither did the soldiers in question but the actors are there to get that point across. I, as an audience member, need to know what it going on. The forgettable scenes are made even worse by the unforgivable run time of nearly two and a half hours. You need to work very hard to make a movie that long feel well paced and Bay is not the man for the job. It seems to go on forever.
The movie is also about a subtle as a two by four to the face, but also seems to go against its own intent. While American Sniper last year was there to get everyone excited about armed forces and show how awesome they are, 13 Hours seems to come down pretty hard on the “there is no point to us being here”. I wouldn’t go so far as saying that it is anti-war, but as far as American propaganda films go it seems much more focused on how pointless the entire event was. One of the soldiers even says something along the lines of “they’ll say ‘he died in a country he doesn’t give a shit about’” which isn’t subtle at all. However, this is also countered by moments such as a torn American flag lying in dirty water. It’s almost like Bay was trying to give the far right the pro-war movie they want while the actual story seems to be doing the opposite.
13 Hours is a movie that has all of the hallmarks of a Michael Bay production and I entirely blame him for the failure of this movie. The soldiers and people who died that night deserved better than the mess of a movie that is currently in theaters.