Big budget blockbuster and ‘Transformers’ helmer Michael Bay tackles the story of the Benghazi attacks that claimed the lives of US Ambassador Chris Stevens, IT specialist Sean Smith and two ex-Navy SEALs (Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty) in his new contemporary war thriller ’13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.’ While I consider Bay to be a total hack and find his brand of highly commercial, mind-numbingly dizzy and over-the-top action flicks excessive and distasteful in the extreme, even I must grudgingly admit that ’13 Hours’ may be his best since ‘The Rock’ way back in 1996.
Adapted from Mitchell Zuckoff’s gripping book of the same title, 13H painstakingly recounts over the course of nearly two-and-a-half hours the events leading up to, during and immediately after the waves of relentless, near suicidal attacks by al-Sharia militants on the State Department “compound” (a fortified palatial residence) housing the US Ambassador and CIA “annex” (a walled outpost consisting of four buildings) a mile away throughout the evening and early morning of September 11-12 of 2012, on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The story is told from the point of view of the CIA annex’s security detail, a team of six former special operators-turned-private military contractors tasked with protecting the civilian CIA staff. With a cast of relative unknowns, the film’s most bankable star is John Krasinski, whom some of you will recognize from his role in ‘The Office’ (American version) and the fact that he’s the lucky guy married to British actress and 'Sicario' star Emily Blunt.
Eschewing unnecessary “character development” that would only slow down the pace in favor of visceral and intense combat scenes, 13H has more in common with Ridley Scott’s ‘Black Hawk Down’ than recent fare such as ‘American Sniper’ and ‘Lone Survivor.’ The small unit tactics and firefights in the movie are highly realistic and hard hitting, and the camaraderie within the brotherhood of arms rings true. As a solid if brutal and uncompromising military action thriller, 13H avoids making any overt or implied political statements and it’s a shame that its subject matter is used for partisan attacks that only served to overshadow and detract us from the courage and self-sacrifice exhibited by these brave warriors who went above and beyond the call of duty, even if they were merely mercenaries.