Movie Review: 13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI (2016)

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13_hours13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI (USA 2015) ***
Directed by Michael Bay

Review by Gilbert Seah

There is one scene in the middle of Michel Bay’s 13 HOURS that accurately describes his political stance of the movie. As the American ambassador Chris Stevens (Matt Letscher) delivers his speech on American involvement in Libya, one of the secret soldiers, Paronto (Pablo Schreiber) dozes off.

Michael Bay, director of Hollywood action packed blockbusters such as the TRANSFORMER films, PEARL HARBOR, ARMAGEDDON, THE ISLAND (his best movie) and others, is not interested in polities but in the action that takes place. In this case, the action involves the 6 secret soldiers that heroically served their country way above and beyond their call of duty.

To Bay, politics is a nod to sleep. Those in politics that fear that the film will have an adverse effect for Hilary Clinton who was the Secretary of State at that time or to the Obama Administration need not be worried. The only political notes in the film appear at the beginning of the film with the titles that America got involved after the Gadaffi was overthrown and at the end of the film with a note of the gratitude of the Libyan people. But certain facts are true – the main one being that the secret soldiers were not supported effectively by the U.S. and security was far from sufficient.

The story, as the film stresses a few times is a true one. Libya, one of the most politically troubled countries in the world has no American embassy but has what is called a low security diplomatic outpost. Here the CIA, who has in their employ, the 6 secret soldiers mentioned has to escape with whatever Americans or American sympathizers are left as they are attacked by unknown hostile forces. Among the escapees is the American Ambassador. It is a continual battle for survival.

13 HOURS is pure Michael Bay. There are lots of explosions, pyrotechnics and special effects with the help of Lucas Light and Sound Company. It is a man’s world. All the 6 actors/soldiers are buffed, bearded and tough or at least talk tough.

At the promo screening, actor Schreiber who was present mentioned that Bay’s intention was to give an account of what happened on the ground. This he has done while emphasizing the camaraderie of the men under fire. 13 HOURS is not the first film depicting the behaviour of men under combat stress. THE HURT LOCKER, KILO TWO BRAVO and AMERICAN SNIPER are a few films that have done just that. Bay uses the same tactics as these films. The soldiers are observed skyping their wives and talking to their kids, the wives are shown freaking out and flashbacks are used to emphasize better family times. The soldiers also refer to what is happening as a horror film. And like in a horror film, Bay also introduces false alarms, like shocking the audience when a lady trips breaking the glasses of tea during a high profile political meeting. Besides action, Bay a few solid suspense segments like the one Jack (John Kravnski) gets out of, lying about drones at the start of the film.

One fault of the film is the relatively simple story that Bay stretches into a 140-minute action film. Boredom sets in quite soon as the audience observes the senseless fighting reflecting the senseless action in the movie.

At only $50 million, Bay is an efficient director delivering a high demand product at a low cost using little known actors, except for John Kravinski who plays the lead character. The film was shot 3 months in Malta and 4 days in Morocco. Like AMERICAN SNIPER and LONE SURVIVOR, this film will likely make lots of money.

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