“[T]he excessive violence becomes interchangeable”
Perhaps Michael Bay was one of the better directors that could’ve handled an action film that depicted the hellish events that occurred in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, which resulted in the deaths of four men, including the United States Libyan Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Rather than bringing a politicized agenda or approaching this story by showing the closeted safety of government buildings where hasty conversations more than certainly took place, Bay thrusts himself on the frontlines with this picture, intent on documenting the chaotic, tragic, and horrifying events that occurred there and follow the men who often get left out of the conversation. No matter what side of the political spectrum you fall on, you almost can’t disagree with the tragic circumstances that unfolded on that September day.
With “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” Bay and screenwriter Chuck Hogan focuses on the titular men who came to the U.S. embassy’s rescue in Libya when the compound housing Christopher Stevens and numerous others came under attack by terrorists. The story centers around Jack Da Silva (John Krasinski, who gives a strong central performance in an unlikely role), a family man with a wife and two children, who finds himself sent into Benghazi with numerous familiar faces in order to protect the ambassador and assure security in the embassy. When Stevens’ bullet-proof compound is swarmed by violent Libyans, any conceivable plan is lost and Da Silva and his squadmates are forced to act largely on impulse in order to live to see rescue from a distant airport, or at least the sunrise again.
Hogan spends the first fifty minutes building up to the inevitable, showing the men arriving in Benghazi, hanging out with one another, in addition to Stevens arriving with other CIA members that would eventually come to meet their fate upon having their compound attacked. During this time, we see that both Bay and Hogan aren’t really intent on setting up these soldiers as characters, nor are they very interested in any of their backstories save for Da Silva’s and his disillusionment with not seeing his kids as frequently as he’d like. While this is undoubtedly a problem for a project that has these men in the subtle of the film, Bay and Hogan’s intentions become more and more clear as the film progresses.
By the time the compound is attacked and the soldiers flee to the embassy for protection and to protect it, it’s clear that Bay and Hogan are interested in depicting the chaos and the unbelievably tragic circumstances that took place in Benghazi during these thirteen hours more than anything else. Rather than focusing on a politicized narrative, both men remain respectful to the titular soldiers in their depiction, but also the Libyan citizens. The film even ends on a fairly daring note to recognize the humanity of the other side, even the enemy, in multiple respects, before ultimately concluding on a note that is incredibly considerate and respectful of all involved.
Bay’s directorial gracefulness comes through in this film more than in any project I’ve yet to see from him, and that’s likely because he’s aware he’s walking on eggshells. Turning the events of the Benghazi terrorist attack into an action film is already a very risky idea, and coupled with the fact that Bay is often cited as one of the worst directors working today certainly doesn’t assist his credibility or his ambition any more. Instead of opting for his usual flash-in-the-pan, sound and light show combined with a mind-numbing amalgamation of sensory annihilation and noise pollution, Bay opts for an angle that showcases the violence of this attack with a strong sense of visual clarity.
Make no mistake in judging “13 Hours” too quickly, however, for its repetition in showcasing the violence of the attack does have the ability to wear on the viewer. While Bay’s approach is admirably constant and never uneven, the excessive violence becomes interchangeable, especially when there are no characters attached to the bodies that are just so haphazardly flying around and collapsing before our eyes.
The jingoism from “American Sniper” is absent, although the coldness and emphasis on amorality in a time of complete and total chaos from “Fury” is missing, as well. “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” as a result, stands in a class all its own in terms of being respectful and cognizant of its characters and the real-life individuals involved, though it can’t help but fall prey to the weakest of war movie conventions. With all that being said, between this and “Pain & Gain,” I, for one, can officially say I’m excited for the new projects Bay has been taking on and will hopefully continuing taking on in the future. This is the perfect film to complement a potential neo-Bay revolution.