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13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

A rah-rah actioner from Michael Bay offers explosions rather than drama

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If you’re still foaming about “Benghazi,” a.k.a. the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in that Libyan city that killed four Americans, including the ambassador, then by all means line up for Michael Bay’s latest macho explosion-fest. 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi recounts the events at the outpost, as well as what went down at a CIA base one mile down the road. Our guides are the six civilian “special operators” — former U.S.-military special forces hired by the CIA for security, who, on the night of the attack, do double duty at both locales.

A set-up that takes the better part of an hour establishes that Benghazi is dangerous; U.S. government figures are a bunch of know-nothing paper-pushers; and when manly men talk about how they miss their wives and kids (a.k.a. the world’s laziest character development), you can bet that one or more of these dudes ain’t making it out. 

A secret soldier (John Krasinski) at dawn
  • A secret soldier (John Krasinski) at dawn

Not that you’ll really care, because other than the guy from The Office (John Krasinski) and one man without a beard, these he-men are indistinguishable from each other. The action scenes are long, murky, confusing and, soon enough, tedious. Bang, bang, night vision, bang, boom, f-word, bang, bang.

Nobody expects nuance from Michael Bay (Transformers), but for the clear-eyed viewer, there are some intriguing dark streaks that run through this rah-rah actioner. There’s the suggestion that the traditional overseas standard-bearers of the American way and justice — Department of State, military, CIA — are hidebound, ineffective, soft, etc., etc. in today’s vaguer geo-political conflicts. But is the answer really hyper-macho for-hire dudes operating off the books?

Somewhere in this stew of explosions and Fox News agendas is the material for a more provocative drama. One about the consequences of mixing it up in another country’s affairs, and how intentions and plans fare within the reality of an unexpected outcome. Add in layers of lumbering bureaucracy, and ideals can quickly get subsumed in red tape, bad management, human error and so on. Focus on some well-developed characters caught up in this mess who struggle to match mission to morals to WTF is this?! Rather than unspool the minutiae of actual events, a better film could have used elements of what happened at Benghazi to flesh out an inspired-by drama rather than “a true story.” 

But who has time for being thoughtful when there are things to blow up, bigger and bigger guns to wield and pulp-novel dialogue like “They are all bad guys until they are not.” Bang, bang, slo-mo injury, boom, American flag floating in pool.


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