13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
Michael Bay’s obnoxious actioner takes a characteristically crude look at a true-life tragedy
With 13 Hours, Michael Bay doesn’t so much wear his political heart on his sleeve as use it to beat his audience into submission. His dramatic retelling of the 2012 terrorist attack on US diplomats in Benghazi, Libya plays like an extended Republican Party election broadcast, complete with relentless handheld camera carnage and beating jungle drum soundtrack.
During the endless set-up, we see security contractors Jack Silva and Tyrone Woods (the ever-brilliant John Krasinski and James Badge Dale) join a team of fellow ex-army men at a secret CIA compound in Benghazi. They are, as we are repeatedly reminded, normal family men, risking it all to bring democracy and prosperity to Libyan society.
Instead of attempting to mine the fascinating depths of the attack – the subject of an investigation after Republicans accused President Obama of failing to act – Bay has taken his normal approach, eschewing narrative nuance for shaky camerawork, hokey slow-motion and explosive effects. Similarly, in adapting the book by Mitchell Zuckoff, screenwriter Chuck Hogan has reduced these soldiers to clichéd war-machines who spout lines like, ‘As long as I’m doing the right thing, God will protect me.’ While machismo surely runs high in extreme situations, here it plays like contrived political posturing.
Sadly, the real-life women involved in this situation are all but ignored. Only one has a small speaking role, Alexia Barlier’s agent Sona Jillani, and she is introduced as a ‘spicy bitch’, told repeatedly to shut up because, as one soldier puts it, ‘I need your eyes and your ears, not your mouth,’ and falls down some steps as she delivers refreshments. While war stories are, traditionally, a masculine domain, such unbridled misogyny is unwarranted and unforgivable.
The same can be said for its rampaging racism. Bay plays fast and loose with Libyan loss of life and, while the characterisation on the US-side may be ham-fisted, it is non-existent elsewhere. The film views all non-Americans with total suspicion: ‘They are all bad guys until they’re not,’ intones a soldier, one of many over-simplified sentiments that, while likely reflecting the truth of the situation, sound like they have been ripped straight out a Donald Trump campaign speech. There is a brief scene in which Libyan women are seen mourning their dead, although this is almost immediately replaced by a lingering shot of a ruined American flag surrounded by debris.
There is absolutely no doubt that men and women who spend their days on the frontlines of conflict deserve universal respect and admiration, but reducing their endeavours to a jingoistic, Bayhem-fuelled actioner is no way to honour them. Election-year conservative fearmongering masquerading as cinema, 13 Hours does a disservice both to its excellent cast and the heroic individuals they portray.
General release from Fri 29 Jan.