A Michael Bay movie is like a Baconator: you know it’s bad for you and has no real benefit, but it combines so many things you like that it’s sometimes hard to turn down. Michael Bay will never be an auteur or an artist, he’s a director for the people. He knows what they want, even if they go on the Internet on a consistent basis and say they don’t. Even if the people are smarter and can think for themselves, Michael Bay believes he knows what’s best for them. He knows all they want is explosions, boobs and sound crashing through speakers. He remains detached from everything around him and sticks solely to his vision, love it or hate it. So how does he apply his polarizing directorial style to an event as serious as the 2012 Benghazi attacks? Thankfully with less boobs, but still the same detachment.
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is based off of Mitchell Zuckoff’s 2014 book about the Benghazi attacks told from the perspective of the American security team on the ground during the attacks. Adapted to screen by Chuck Hogan (The Town), the team consists of Jack Silva (John Krasinski), Tyrone Woods (James Badge Dale), Kris Paronto (Pablo Schreiber), Dave Benton (David Denman), John Tiegen (Dominic Fumusa) and Mark Geist (Max Martini). They’re brought to Benghazi in 2012 to help a secret CIA outpost protect in an incoming US ambassador. Tensions are high after the death of Muammar Gaddafi and the overthrow of the Libyan government, so American military presence is not advised. Nevertheless, militant forces storm the American embassy and threaten the life of the ambassador. Despite resistance from the CIA team chief onsite, the security team makes their move to save the ambassador.
For those wondering if there are any grand political statements 13 Hours has to offer, rest your minds (this is a Michael Bay film, after all). 13 Hours offers nothing more than Dollar Store-quality commentary on the Benghazi attacks. It’s all about how stuffy government agents are wrong and buff, bearded American soldiers are right. Hardworking, intelligent government agents ain’t got nothin’ on the strapping men of the Armed Forces and their macho guns. American soldiers are the BRAVEST AND TOUGHEST MEN IN THE WORLD!!!! Yeah, 13 Hours might as well be a parody song from Team America: World Police. Though it strongly supports American military, it has a real negative attitude towards American government politics. Whenever there’s a delay in support or a lack of firearms in the movie, the security blames on the “.gov” people. It feels as if it’s trying to be one of those “people should rule the country, not the government,”-type speeches without anything to back it up.
It’s the most basic form of crowd-pleasing propaganda, but Bay doesn’t make much time for it. He’s too busy focusing on the firefight and building the story around it. The movie hits the ground running when Silva lands in Benghazi and starts throwing out military jargon and exposition. It would be understandable if Bay wasn’t always jerking the camera around every scene. Someone needs to tell Bay that he should take five to ten steps away from his actors since most of the shots in the movie are mediums and close-ups, creating a jarring and annoying experience. To make his gritty war movie feel more realistic, he takes the Paul Greengrass approach by using first-person shots from the rifles of the soldiers and constant shaking cameras to follow the movement of the security team. The bad news is that shaking cameras are in every action movie these days, what once was cool and innovative is now more cause for headaches during viewing.
To Bay’s credit, he does ease up on that in the film’s second half when the security team regroups at the CIA compound for an Alamo-esque last stand. He gets some impressive sweeping overlooks of the compound as militants swarm and packs on the dread with every new wave that approaches. He gives the movie time to breathe between shootouts to build the characters, which is needed since none of the actors really stand out. They do have funny banter between them, but it’s nothing more than a break from all the mentions of tangos and RPGs. And no matter how much John Krasinski beefed up for the role, there’s still that awkward demeanor that screams “Jim from The Office.”
The odd thing about 13 Hours is that I don’t blame Bay entirely for this being a bad movie. Bay doesn’t have politics: Chuck Hogan has politics, Paramount Pictures definitely has politics, but Bay honestly couldn’t care less. He doesn’t want to make a grand statement about Benghazi, he just wanted to make an action movie, albeit a bad one. Someone like Paul Greengrass or Clint Eastwood would’ve definitely used 13 Hours to make some commentary about the war or the American political climate, but Bay’s detachment from all basic forms of reality make the movie seem hollow. On top of that, the excitement of Bay’s directorial style becomes dull and worn out over time. The movie is nearly two hours and needed to cut about 45 minutes off to make anything seem exciting. There’s nothing to feel proud about after seeing 13 Hours, in fact there’s nothing to feel at all. It’s just another Michael Bay movie *sigh* yayy America.
Final Verdict: Freedom Fries out of 4 (1.5 out of 4)