13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi depicts the true story of a six-strong elite team of former special-forces-turned-private-security contractors. The group were on assignment to protect a supposedly secret CIA outpost when terrorists attacked a US diplomatic compound in Libya’s Benghazi on September 11, 2012.
The film is based on the non-fictional book ‘13 Hours’ from best-selling author Mitchell Zuckoff and the film’s director (Michael Bay) relied heavily on this book’s account and the insights of the surviving members of the team, all of whom insist the film is a true picture of what happened.
The story focuses on Jack Silva (a beefed-up John Krasinski), an ex-Navy SEAL and the most recent addition to the security team. He joins Rone (James Badge Dale), Oz (Max Martini), Tanto (Pablo Schreiber), Tig (Dominic Fumusa) and Boon (David Denman). Despite their acceptance of war, there’s a mutual sense of disillusionment and cynicism in the group, particularly when it comes to government intervention (or lack thereof) and understanding who should be considered the ‘bad guy’.
Throughout the attack, the team are faced not just with relentless gunfire but a mass of bureaucracy and lack of support from their own government. US ambassador Chris Stevens (Matt Letscher), who is in Benghazi to strengthen US-Liberia relations, is protected by a small number of US State agents and some untrained local gun-owners. When the rebels enter the ambassador’s compound, his security calls for help from the CIA outpost. Rone and his team are ready but are repeatedly told to stand down by the CIA station head, Bob (David Costabile).
The film takes 45 minutes to get into its flow and the often-bloated dialogue means it’s somewhat of a relief when the real action starts. Overall, the macho cast do a decent, albeit not ground-breaking, job. While Krasinski’s character is at the centre of the plot, the strongest performances come from Badge Dale and Schreiber, the latter of whom brings some much-welcome humour.
13 Hours is arguably Bay’s most human of films; yes, there’s excessive use of firepower and cars but for once he manages to keep the story focused on the people, not the armoury. Whatever your political bias, this is an interesting story that will make you think long after you leave the cinema.
While the film’s dialogue in parts is messy and unrelatable, the biggest flaw is its lengthy running time.
Cut thirty minutes off its 144 minute total and Bay could have had himself a pacey and action-packed war film. Instead, the set-up limps along for too long, leaving the action scenes packed in until their eventual conclusion.
13 Hours is an unsubtle pro-America, anti-government film that appears to have been made as a piece of Republican election propaganda; however, it manages to show that in conflict, no one side is the winner and proves that Bay is capable of delivering a story that is about people, not machines.