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Film Review – 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

3 min read

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is the latest project from prolific producer and director Michael Bay (Transformers series), and tells the story of a group of CIA contractors, called GRS (“Global Response Staff”), who were dedicated to protecting a secret CIA operating base in Benghazi, Libya after the fall of dictator Muammar Gadaffi. Based on true events that occurred in September 2011, it focuses primarily on Jack Silva, one of the newest contractors, who arrives just before a visit from the US Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stephens. As most people know, the compound where the Ambassador was staying was attacked by insurgents who killed Ambassador Stephens and another state department employee. Since the GRS team worked for the CIA, whose presence in Libya wasn’t officially acknowledged, the command Chief (on orders from above) refused to let the team assist in helping the Ambassador, so they went anyway.  After the attack on the Ambassador’s compound, the insurgents then focused attacks on the CIA compound, and the GRS team spent the rest of the night defending it and the CIA personnel inside until help finally arrived from Tripoli.

The subject of 13 Hours is very sensitive and divisive for many people, and the fallout had political ramifications for many top American politicians, including Hillary Clinton. Bay doesn’t hesitate to take sides (in fact he beats you over the head with it), but since he really only tells one side of the story, you can’t help be a little sceptical. Don’t expect an objective examination of the incident, because it isn’t, and Bay’s hidden agenda is not very well hidden. Though based on a true story, many of the “facts” he presents have been disputed or even disproved.

13 Hours The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi insert

Staying within his comfort zone, Bay packs 13 Hours with lots of exploding cars, gunfire, and rockets as one would expect from a film about modern urban warfare. Of course this type of action is Bay’s bread and butter, and he does it quite well.  He has the formula down, so in that respect it comes off as a standard middle-east/special-forces type of action movie.

Having said that, Bay does scale some new heights with 13 Hours in terms of characterization and tension, though he didn’t have to go far considering his prior work. Known for his dizzying and over-the-top action scenes, Bay (thankfully) takes it a step further and focuses on characterization and also achieves a surprising amount of tension and suspense. Smartly, he doesn’t cast any A-list celebrity actors that can be distracting. Instead, he casts a group of actors who are very talented and experienced, though not necessarily well-known. All-around, I thought the performances were excellent, but I felt most notable were Jon Krasinski as Jake Silva, and Pablo Schreiber as Tanto, who very effectively captured the confusion the team constantly faced  by not knowing who was friend or foe from one moment to the next.

Taking the “true story” claim with a grain of salt, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is a decent modern military conflict movie. Though a bit heavy-handed at times, it is more restrained, and a pleasant departure from the excess we usually see Michael Bay churn out.