If anyone has ever fist-pumped about a Michael Bay film, it’s this gal right here. Let’s face it; Michael Bay Go Boom. And it’s glorious. Except when it’s heartbreaking too. In 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (that I’m shortening to 13 Hours for this review because c’mon now) Bay and his cast dig deep, giving moviegoers not only the pomp and circumstance of war, but the pain, fear and uncertainty that goes along with all the ooh-rah.
For me, I’d only really heard about Benghazi in the news, usually when the city’s name was tossed like a grenade into some sort of political debate. So for everyone else who needs a bit of a refresher? On September 11th, 2012, a United States diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, was attacked by Islamic militants, killing a United States Ambassador and a member of his staff. Hours later, the militants attacked a CIA compound approximately a mile away from the first attack, killing two United States government contractors serving as the CIA’s Global Response Staff (GRS). 13 Hours follows the story of the six GRS members — former US military — on the weeks before, and all through, the attacks.
Let’s start with the FX. They’re incredible. In-your-face incredible. Everything you want and expect from a Michael Bay film incredible. I hope the Academy remembers this film for next year’s award noms incredible. Academy Award winning cinematographer Dion Beebe (Memoirs of a Geisha) delivers another nomination-worthy effort here, from gorgeous desert wide shots to close-ups of blood and pain. Production designer Jeffrey Beecroft (Dances with Wolves), along with a huge makeup, costuming and visual effects team (including powerhouse Industrial Light and Magic) keep things real, be it a day-to-day scene or a nighttime battle royale. I could almost feel the bits of stucco and cement pinging me as shots blasted around the characters. Could understand the confusion as smoke billowed and the sun set. It’s painful to watch so much destruction, but these folks managed to create a certain kind of beauty in it too.*
Then there’s the ensemble cast, who all work well together. And yes, they’re incredibly easy on the eyes; we’re talking characters who are ex-military but still fighting. Top-shape y’all. They even managed to fit in my favorite bit of The Office eye candy. No, not John Krasinski, though I’ll get to him in a sec. David “Roy, Pam’s Ex” Denman. (What? Even I have to take a break from Idris Elba and Colin Firth every once in a while.) Denman, as contractor Dave ‘Boon’ Benton, is given a pretty healthy role here, and he flexes his dramatic chops nicely.
The “Everyman” in this film is Krasinski’s Jack Silva (based on real-life former GRS member Jack Da Silva). The story begins with Jack getting off an airplane in Benghazi, and ends with Jack and his team leaving after the attack. Krasinski manages to balance the feel of a newbie with a solid, well-trained military man who knows what he’s doing. James Badge Dale (The Pacific), Dominic Fumusa (Nurse Jackie), Pablo Schreiber (Orange is the New Black), and Max Martini (Pacific Rim) round out the six, and the training these guys went through with actual SEALs shows in the easy way they deliver their lines and riff off each other, as well as their believable familiarity with their weapons. Stunt guns or no, these actors are damn believable when things go from quiet to violent. These dudes look the part, and the work that went into it shows well onscreen.
This is a busy film. A messy film. Gritty, dirty, and most definitely bloody. There are tons of balls in the air at any given time, and the video-game-but-real vibe made me unable to do anything but focus on the film. (Seriously, I still have Twizzlers I never opened in my purse.) Iit all adds up to a glorious chaos. Bay points no fingers, letting the story unfold so viewers can come to their own conclusions. Me? I saw the usual cluster-bleep of middle-management wannabes trying to flex their “power” by holding fast instead of thinking on the fly or using good-ol’ common sense. But while this film definitely made me pissed off at some for complete and total lack of prep, 13 Hours is more of a taste of what it’s like to stand up and defend our country, come what may. And I can’t be mad at that.