Genre: Drama, Action and Adventure
Director: Michael Bay
Cast: John Krasinski, Pablo Schreiber, Domicnic Fumusa, Max Martini, James Badge Dale, Toby Stephens, Matt Letscher, David Denman, David Costabile, David Giuntoli
Release Date: January 15th, 2016
The subject of what transpired on the night of September 11th 2012 in Benghazi, Libya has been up for debate since that horrific day. In the debate about who was responsible for the attacks that left four people dead (including Ambassador Chris Stevens), analysts and political pundits often lose sight of the actual events of that day and the heroic actions of our military personnel to prevent bloodshed.
Director Michael Bay reminds us of those sacrifices in his latest feature 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, the first must-see movie of 2015.
Leaving aside politics, Bay opens the film in Libya during a tumultuous period. He notes that in 2011, monstrous Libyan leader Gaddafi was deposed leading to more instability in that nation. In 2012, our diplomatic outpost in Benghazi was labelled one of the most dangerous and unstable ones in the world. When the idealistic U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens (Matt Letscher) visits it — partially in a bid to win over “the hearts and minds” of the Libyan people — the security forces in that area know that the risk for a potential attack has been raised.
An elite team of contracted former military officers is tasked with protecting him in public while his own personal security team is asked to protect him in the consulate where he’s staying. On September 11th, the ambassador is told to remain indoors because the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks has raised the threat level. The threat comes to his front door.
After showing the affection that Stevens has earned both from the Libyan people and from some of the officials tasked with protecting him, Bay shows what transpired the night of the 11th. A well-armed gang of terrorists attacks the consulate while the security forces a mile away are forced to make a choice: follow protocol and stay home or defy their orders to save lives.
John Krasinski, playing an officer named Jack Silva, stands in for the audience’s perspective. A new addition to the Benghazi contractor team, Silva has seen growing anxiety on the streets as the Americans don’t know who to trust in this fragile environment. Long before the first shots are fired, Bay has already shown the skittish situation on the streets and the unstable environment that surrounds the ambassador when he arrives in town.
Once the consulate is attacked, Chuck Hogan’s screenplay diligently builds tension up both in the consulate compund itself and at the secret CIA base where the contractor former officers are staying. Stevens becomes trapped in a nine acre compound that becomes surrounded by Libyan soldiers. To his credit, Bay had earlier introduced the beautiful compound to the audience as a vast paradise — a chilling contrast to Steven’s last refuge, which the compound eventually serves as.
The contractors led by the seemingly fearless Tyrone ‘Rone’ Woods (James Badge Dale) eventually choose to fight for the consulate, despite the fact that they never receive orders to. They don’t need them. When their fellow countrymen are in danger, these men are willing to stand up to save lives. 13 Hours powerfully shows that when this small team of men is willing to jump right into a firefight with little fear or hesitancy.
Although the movie isn’t political on an overt level (the politics of the situation are left on the sideline), the director shows how these men — who after fighting in the consulate are forced to protect their own base — were left with virtually no military back-up or support as dozens of terrorists attacked them from all sides. After one group of attackers retreats, another one appears hours later. With little help in sight, these officers were charged with fighting to the end and considering how the enemy kept appearing throughout a harrowing thirteen hour span, it seemed like the end could be only moments away.
In the past few years, moviegoers have seen a variety of strong military films early on in the year. From Lone Survivor to American Sniper, it now seems that Hollywood has woken up to our desire to see movies that respect and honor our military heroes. 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is a fine addition to that canon with Bay — who has become known for over-the-top cinematic spectacles — slowing his pace down to offer a renewed respect and appreciation for the soldiers who fought so bravely in Libya. This is an important story that deserved to be on the big screen and fortunately for us, Bay has done it justice in this strong drama.
Review by: John Hanlon