Starring: John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Pablo Schreiber
Directed by: Michael Bay (“Transformers: Age of Extinction”)
Written by: Chuck Hogan (TV’s “The Strain”)
When you take a controversial subject based on the lives of real people and real events, the last person you may think of to be at the helm is director Michael Bay. As perhaps the most overt filmmaker of our time, Bay has been making a living blowing up shit for decades with little to no nuance or storytelling prowess. In “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” Bay tackles recent history with varying results.
When a group of Islamic radicals attack an American diplomatic compound, a U.S. Ambassador gets trapped inside. A group of six ex-military security contractors led by Tyrone Woods (James Badge Dale) and Jack Da Silva (John Krasinski) are sent in to save those who are there. As the fight moves over to a secret CIA annex, the group of soldiers must hold their ground and wait for reinforcements.
“13 Hours” is easily the most restrained movie Bay has made in many years. While usually known for polished, slick, CG-heavy settings, “13 Hours” is, at times, gritty and visceral, feeling more Michael Mann than Michael Bay. That isn’t to say that there aren’t big set pieces and technical achievements. In fact, the best quality of “13 Hours” is the way in which many of the shootout sequences are shot. Making use of lots of swooping crane shots, slow motion and more, Bay’s visual style (something that hasn’t really ever been questioned) is allowed to at least give the audience something engaging to look at.
Like much of Bay’s work, the script of “13 Hours” is generic and riddled with flat characters and clichés. It is, however, slightly elevated by some OK performances, chiefly that of Dale. The main issue with the storytelling mechanisms of “13 Hours” is that it isn’t really interested in talking about the details and ramifications of what went down over that 13-hour span, but rather show you, in long-winded detail, the firefight that ensued. It is certainly engaging at parts, but more than half of “13 Hours” is filled with gunfire. In fact, it’s almost as if Bay had about an hour and a half of solid action and threw in some back-story and narrative conflict as a complete afterthought.
While it is far from Bay’s worst film, “13 Hours” feels repetitive, drawn out and hollow. There are some high points, especially in the way of tension and action. Still, it’s hard to dig into anything other than the action sequences. With a story that is a lot more complex than what is on screen, it leaves plenty to be desired.