MOVIE REVIEW: ’13 Hours’ Is Almost Like Lazy Propaganda…With Explosions

13 hours review

Film: 13 Hours
Directed By: Michael Bay
Starring: John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Max Martini

Politicking aside, the raid of the U.S. compound in Benghazi resulted in soldiers giving their lives to protect others. That’s the real-life event at its moral core, right? What director Michael Bay is presupposing here is that, “maybe our military’s bravest heroes can be fetishized to the point of lazy propagandist filmmaking?” I’m sure that Bay didn’t think or say those exact words, but it’s pretty evident here that “respect” was not at the forefront of his brain. 13 Hours is the steroid-injected, blow-em-up antithesis to anything of conversational worth. It’s the bloated and relentlessly violent brother of Pearl Harbor, another Bay film we almost forgot about being offensive for the sake of the director’s juvenile compulsions.

It was Tuesday, September 11, 2012 when the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya became overrun with Islamic militants. Six contracted soldiers, some Navy and others Army, were the compound’s only line of defense that night. 13 Hours follows the struggle that those men went through to ensure the safety of American lives and government intelligence. Among those soldiers were Jack Silva (John Krasinski), Tyrone ‘Rone’ Woods (James Badge Dale), Kris ‘Tanto’ Paronto (Pablo Schreiber), Dave ‘Boon’ Benton (David Denman), John ‘Tig’ Tiegen (Dominic Furmusa) and Mark ‘Oz’ Geist (Max Martini).

From the get-go, Bay drops us in the middle of Libya, which is depicted as a desolate war zone after Muammar Gaddafi got dethroned. A sweaty and tense place overrun with turf wars because all attempts at democracy have failed. If this sounds like the kind of place that would act as a backdrop for a post-apocalyptic horror flick, then you’re on the right track. Crafting a rounded perception of the events in Benghazi isn’t in the best interests of the filmmakers here. This is the kind of one-sided drivel that gets let loose every once in a while in the multiplexes (looking at you, Act of Valor). In a way, 13 Hours is Bay’s idea of what a horror film may be like. Libyan nationals are not repulsing creatures meant to be slain, though. Someone didn’t get the memo.

If your main worry is being completely uninformed about the events that took place in Benghazi, Libya, then fret no more! Since exposition has never been Bay’s thing, he lets some news reels and title cards spell it out for you. Just know that the main characters are meant to blow up anything and everything unless they’re running away from explosions, that is. Like the Transformers films, there’s no spatial coherence in the swath of action scenes put on display here. The frenetic handheld work and overhead drone shots don’t act like flyovers the story sometimes tries to depict. Instead, it’s a constant reminder that not all is lost when there are things to be destroyed, so the movie must not be over yet.

13 hours body

Other than the blatant xenophobic theme undercutting anything else of worth in the film, there’s a bit of an aside that almost makes you believe that Bay’s filmmaking may be taking a political stance on the issues at hand. We hear a voiceover from U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens (Matt Letscher) as he writes about his worries of encroaching violent extremists on his scantily-protected compound in his journal. There’s something passive-aggressive about the sequence, like the filmmakers were mumbling under their breath about the supposed blind eye the U.S. government took before these events. This aside, of course, is wiped away from memory almost immediately when the Ambassador’s compound gets attacked and sets forth an explosive third act that feels like an hour and a half.

Krasinski, Badge Dale and Co. aren’t really called upon to do much more than “glisten and brood” through the story. If anything, their characters’ individual stories about what they’re waiting for at home feel like footnotes to the preceding dialogues filled with classic machismo lines like “payback’s a bitch, and her stripper name is Karma.” “Pack some chewing tobacco, grow a beard and assert your dominance in the face of danger” must have been a note on every page of the script.

Immersing the viewers in the horror that these men faced may be Bay’s intent, but he goes about it in the worst way possible. In one particular sequence, we follow the POV of a mortar shell destined for one of the main players as it shoots into the air and lands in the vicinity of said character, killing him. This is war sensationalism at its worst and it’s almost deliberately calling on the viewer to take on the stance of the mortar shell, one of indifference, as people perish under fire.

“Respect the heroes.” the headlines read. “Fuck that.” Michael Bay’s memo read.


Sam Cohen

Sam Cohen is that guy you can't have a conversation with without bringing up Michael Mann. He is also incapable of separating himself from his teenage angst (looking at you, Yellowcard). Read on as he tries to formulate words about movies!
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  • Kriston McConnell

    The struggles of the straight white man.