A little over three years ago there was a devastating attack by Islamist extremists that began at a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. The death toll included a much-loved ambassador and the Republicans quickly politicized the disaster; there’s still an ongoing and controversial attempt to smear Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and derail her run at the presidency. But what has been little known, up till now, are many details on what happened that long and terrifying night. Enter director Michael Bay, whose 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is an intense, deliberately jagged reenactment of how a mere six “security personnel” – ex-Marines and ex-Navy Seals who were bodyguards at a not-so-secret CIA base – fought off as many as 200 heavily armed thugs intent on annihilating American personnel during an all-night siege.
The film itself has engendered its own controversy with its depiction of the head of the CIA base that was located a mile from the diplomatic compound. Portrayed as an officious, patronizing bully, he supposedly initially refused to let the six elite soldiers mount a rescue when the imperiled ambassador called for help. If there was a delay, it likely cost him his life. What’s not in question is that these six warriors – all family men – were selflessly volunteering for something akin to a suicide mission. And after a belated – and futile – effort at the compound, the men dodge bullets all the way back to the CIA base, well aware that something hellish is chasing at their heels.
The men’s heroism, as well as their extraordinary lethality, were clearly irresistible to Bay, the maestro of blowed-up-real-good, who delivers an epic night of slaughter that’s a bit like Black Hawk Down rendered as a first-person-shooter video game. Bay uses a mixture of deliberate chaos and fast edits combined with flowing camera work to draw the viewer into the experience of a hellzapoppin’ firefight where it’s all chaos and carnage, testosterone and adrenaline. Coming from a director best known for his slick and soulless Transformers series, the result is gritty and surprisingly gripping. Some critics have dismissed 13 Hours as patriotism porn. But notwithstanding all the American flag imagery and manly pronouncements about what is worth dying for, this is, by Bay standards, a serious film with moments of emotional authenticity.
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi ★★★
Stars John Krasinski, Max Martini
Directed by Michael Bay
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