Michael Bay’s 13 Hours is likely not what you imagine. Rather than an exposé of a semi-shameful event from our country’s recent past, it’s really an attempt to praise Spooky Men. This much is made obvious in Bay’s subtitle, The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. The film opens with the arrival of one Jack Silva (John Krasinski) to fill out a team of Global Response Staff (GRS), a paramilitary offshoot of the CIA, in Libya. Jack is a CIA “contractor,” much like the infamous Blackwater troops, in country to protect American spies. It’s Bay’s contention that these men were the most heroic Americans of all the people involved in the sad event — though he honors slain ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. The GRS did their job with honor and gusto at a time when even the CIA was hesitant to respond. According to the film, our armed forces also dragged their feet with tragic repercussions.
Bay’s premise, based largely on the book by Mitchell Zuckoff, never treads specifically on any specific U.S. politicians, so right-wingers hoping for dirt on Hillary Clinton (who was then Secretary of State) will be disappointed. But those expecting to see the embassy besieged might be disappointed, too. The events leading up to Stevens’s death transpire pretty fast. The real film concerns a battle over a nearby “annex,” the CIA headquarters where the contractors defend the spies.
It’s a good combat film, but for all the bloody battling, 13 Hours doesn’t come near the movies it resembles, such as Black Hawk Down. Bay’s famous bouncy narrative camera (all quick cuts and telling details instead of big-picture mayhem) leaves us confused. He always prefers details to the big story. This is a compelling movie, and its emphasis is on heroism rather than finger pointing — although Bay does inject some of that. The fight seems more like another Alamo than the tragic fiasco that it was.