DIR: Michael Bay • WRI: Chuck Hogan • PRO: Michael Bay, Erwin Stoff • DOP: Dion Beebe • ED: Pietro Scalia, Calvin Wimmer • DES: Jeffrey Beecroft • MUS: Lorne Balfe • CAST: John Krasinski, Pablo Schreiber, James Badge
On the 11th anniversary of 9/11, Libyan insurgents of some kind attacked the American Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, resulting in the death of the American Ambassador, then a secret C.I.A. base a mile away from the Embassy was also attacked by more insurgents. Luckily there happened to be a few Aryan Supermen around to save the day, or at least that’s the gist I got from this factually disputed “biopic”.
So it starts off standard enough, a guy walks into an airport wearing a suit and sunglasses, gets into a military Jeep and starts getting filled in on what’s happening in Benghazi by another soldier. They both come across as well-rounded enough, if a bit cliché, and I hoped the film would bother to humanise everyone to some extent, but then I was introduced to their commander, and thus came to the unfortunate realisation that this was going to be one of those stories where everyone but the main protagonists is either a bureaucrat or a terrorist. This is not good storytelling. You’re supposed to humanise your heroes and give them goals, and flaws, and struggles, not just make them the most likeable/unlikeable people in the story by default.
From there this film is the usual Michael Bay fare, a lot of scenes seem to take place at around five o’clock in the afternoon, there’s an abundance of low-angle shots, anyone associated with the American Army in any way comes across as good and righteous and just, although Bay’s homo-eroticism seems to have gone up another notch, as there’s a lot of shots of big, muscular guys wearing very little clothing, working out, and getting all sweaty under the hot, Libyan sun.
Now I will say one thing in favour of this film: the acting is at least good, John Krasinski is alright as a lead protagonist, and David Costabile does the best he can with the role of an obnoxious C.I.A. bureaucrat, but the problem is Chuck Hogan’s script doesn’t give the actors anything to work with, and all of the characters come off as one-note and one-dimensional – normally I’d forgive a Michael Bay film for those deficiencies, but that’s because he usually makes stupid action movies, and in a serious war-drama you need to have things like relatable characters, and this deficiency becomes even more glaring when the action dies down, and the film starts trying to be about its characters, There’s one skype-call involving Krasinski, his wife, and a drive-through, and it’s so excruciating it makes that picnic scene in Armageddon look like the gold standard for filmmakers everywhere.
What condemns this project to the dreaded bad movie hell is that it has no idea what it wants to be. From the trailers you might think this is a gritty war-drama, similar to Fury or Full Metal Jacket, but in reality it’s just yet another Michael Bay action film, but then it throws in an out of place philosophical quote about how heaven and hell exist in your mind, and at the very end of the film, you see women crying next to the corpses of the men we’ve just spent two hours watching being mown down in gratuitous, stylised war scenes, which makes me wonder what message Bay was trying to spread with this movie, and what kind of tone he was going for.
In the end, this is easily Bay’s worst film since Pearl Harbour – the decent performances and some admittedly nice cinematography really is nowhere near enough to save this particular atrocity.
144 minutes (See IFCO for details)
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is released 29th January 2016
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