It feels only fitting to start off a Michael Bay movie review with a boom so here goes. Bay might be the most questionable director to have ever been given a true story adaptation. I really like what he did with the insane real tale of Pain and Gain and unfortunately we all know how the world feels about his take on Pearl Harbour but in his new film he nails some great action (which we know he’s good at), but fails in any sort of human drama. Is this because the man is, from all reports, socially inept? Yes, I think this could be a leading contributor. He just doesn’t know how people interact with each other.
There are a few directors in Hollywood who know how to put together an action sequence or a series of them and love him or hate him, Michael Bay sits on that list. Like the Bad Boys films, The Rock, heck, even The Island, Bay again and again delivers interesting set pieces with the same old glaring omission always clouding it. A robotic sense of emotion. The worst thing about the way this affects his new film 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of the Benghazi is that it needed the compelling emotional narrative to hold it together. Otherwise it’s incredibly hard to care about any of these brave men who are depicted.
The film is about a true story in Libya, following a private sector security team in 2012. On the evening of September 11th, a terrorist group attacked the compound of an American diplomat and then a CIA annex afterwards, causing the group made up of military veterans who served with the Navy SEALS, Marine Force Recon and Army Special Forces to defend the people housed within until an extraction could come and get them out of Benghazi.
Leading the film is former The Office star John Krasinski in an impressively muscle bulked role as Jack Silva, the newest member of the team, brought on by his good friend Tyrone S. “Rone” Woods, played by a more impressively bulked James Badge Dale. Along with four other team members (Max Martini, Dominic Fumusa, Pablo Schreiber and David Denman), the team is a driven and formidable force to be reckoned with that also has the incredible ability to constantly one liner right in the thick of a harrowing and deadly battle.
Constantly being a thorn in their side is Breaking Bad’s David Costabile who plays The Chief, a man who is “just following orders by the book”, always ready to step in and stop the team from doing their jobs. Ironically, being a company man might have got in the way of saving a lot of Americans who perished during the attack. A little contradictory to Michael Bay’s usual “rah-rah” undying military supporting, it is a glaring message of how some pivotal decisions are made by officials far removed from any combat situation.
As I said before, Bay’s attention to action sequences are spot on and top notch. His close relationship with the U.S. Army again pays off as he seems to have everything he needs at his disposal. A shot of F-18s on a military base, loads of drone shots and point of view shots from these as well. Then there’s the weapons load up money shots. In his career Bay must have filmed thousands and thousands of weapons, his real money shots if you will. Time and time again Michael Bay does what he does best, American military recruitment videos and 13 Hours is no different.
The over saturation of bravado and machismo is what bogs this film down in laughable interactions. Pablo Schreiber’s character Tanto is the obvious comic relief of the film who, even deep within the heat of the battle, is still quipping Bad Boys style dialogue as his friends and teammates are immersed in deadly danger. I’m unsure if the real Kris “Tanto” Paronto is like this but I thought it was oddly distracting.
The other make or break part of 13 Hours lies in Michael Bay’s direction style. There’s always a frenetic movement to everything in this film. The cross cutting, quick edits and interjection of the time table of the story gives a constantly jarring feeling of never getting quite settled into the story. Add to that a badly paced first half hour of the movie that will maybe take you out of the story and you have a stumbly ladder to climb to actually be invested in.
It has to be said that this film is infinitely better than the last three Transformers films that Bay has punished us with in the last handful of years. Always quick to tell us the numbers on how profitable he is, Bay actually, at times, shows a little restraint and can gives us some thought provoking and interesting shots at times in this one. His penchant for going back to the well of spinning camera, lens flared and smoke filled fly over shots do everything to contradict these though, reaffirming him as the “auteur of crap”. That being said, he makes it look damn good sometimes. 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of the Benghazi gets a two out of five.