Review: Michael Bay’s Power Of Myth In 13 Hours


13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is Michael Bay at his most retrained. A filmmaker whose cinematic oeuvre included the beginnings of Will Smith’s ascent to movie stardom in the late 1990s (Bad Boys); a Mexican standoff sans Mexicans in a prison shower room between Navy SEALs and a renegade general (as seen in The Rock); and a transforming robot pissing (ahem, lubricating) on John Turturro, Michael Bay has made his career on style and technique, not as a storyteller.

Having already presented us with the factually inaccurate Pearl Harbor more than a decade ago, Bay goes gung-ho again by presenting a blend of truth and distortion of what happened September 11-12, 2012, when Islamic militants attacked both a diplomatic compound in Benghazi and the clandestine CIA outpost a mile away. Going for realism in a fictional medium, Bay can’t help but include some of his hallmark “Bay-isms.” A point-of-view shot of a bomb falling. The stars and stripes waving or fallen, tattered. 13 Hours stirs up emotion, some of it earned, other times complicated, for a disaster that became a political football leading to Congressional hearings (aka FOX News presents “The Hillary Clinton Show”).

Sidestepping politics – not really – for a more in-the-moment story that pits the contrasting depictions of the CIA’s Global Response Staff (GRS) and their Ivy League-educated overseers – which is like getting Revenge of the Alpha-Betas (poor Lambdas) – plus the hundreds of militants looking to shed American blood, and it’s easy to get caught up in the us against them mentality. But because the story is the accounts from the security team that defended the American diplomatic compound we only get half of the story. This seems to be par the course in making audiences more receptive to current wartime movies, placing emphasis on the heroism in the fog of war and avoiding the minutiae (see also Lone Survivor).

Beginning with preface text to set the stage of the current state of affairs in a destabilized Libya we meet protagonist Jack Da Silva (John Krasinski, moving from “The Office” to undergo the same extreme sitcom makeover that Chris Pratt received). He’s joining up with the GRS security team across the Atlantic leaving his wife to contend with the children and family matters. James Badge Dale is Tyrone “Rone” Woods, a natural leader and obstinate adversary to the pencil-pushing CIA base chief (David Costabile). The Chief is a Poindexter egghead so we are instantly bent to loathe his cecity to the growing threat. His inaction is a denotation of what’s wrong with our nation’s foreign policy; an overt nudge to the Obama administration. The GRS may refer to themselves at “alphas” at one point, but the chief puts his foot down with a “You’re not a first responder. You’re the last resort.” response. Rone counters when the proverbial shit hits the fan with, “You’re not giving the orders anymore. You’re taking them.”

The characters reference films like Black Hawk Down and Tropic Thunder, and GRS member “Boon” (David Denman) is even spotted reading Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth of which a passage finds its way into the story. “All the gods, all the devils, all the heavens are in you.” This may be a pinnacle for Michael Bay at about being deep and reflective without being overtly schmaltzy. (Sorry to the fans of Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.”)

Without trying to humanize the good Libyan fighters from those that want to see death to America, Bay is able to concentrate on the action with surgical precision. The insurgency at the diplomatic compound and later CIA outpost is some of the filmmaker’s most swiftly executed action pieces. Dion Beebe, who lensed Michael Mann’s Collateral and Miami Vice, shows his dexterity with Alamo siege-like firefights where enemy bodies fall by the dozens with poofs of blood hitting the air after bullets hit their marks. Might as well call it Call of Duty: Bay-ghazi.

13 Hours is slickly done and never dull, but it feels twenty minutes too long (it runs 144 minutes). The key characters are sketches too, not fully formed, yet the performances serve their roles. Which I guess is a sort of irony. The members of GRS are shown as being mythic in stature including the one caught reading The Power of Myth. Regardless of myth or reality, 13 Hours honors the heroism and the warriors, not necessarily the men.

Director: Michael Bay
Writer(s): Chuck Hogan, based on Mitchell Zuckoff’s “13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened In Benghazi”
Notable Cast: John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Pablo Schreiber, David Denman, Max Martini, David Costabile, Toby Stephens

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