by: S. Scott Stanikmas – Senior Staff Writer
Usually when you see Michael Bay’s name as the director of a film you know you’re in for some mindless, balls-to-the-wall summer-blockbuster style popcorn flick. But his latest effort, the based-on-a-true-story 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, goes little deeper than most Bay flicks, although not by much. While it still has the expected explosions and intense action the filmmaker is known for, it also has some great characterization that make this one of his better efforts in a long time.
We see the world through the eyes of Jack Da Silva (John Krasinski), an ex-Navy SEAL and current private security contractor whose latest job takes him to the unstable post-Gaddafi Benghazi, Libya. The action starts hot out of the gate as Da Silva and fellow contractor Tyrone “Rone” Woods (James Badge Dale) get caught up in roadblock set up by extremists on the way back to the secret CIA compound where the rest of the team is housed.
After a tense standoff that sees the military men bluff their way out of a scary situation we meet the rest of the six-man team and get down to business. After a too brief setting-up period, where we see how the team deals with those who would possibly do them harm, we flash forward five weeks to the days before the 11th anniversary of the September 11 attacks in New York City.
Now we get to the story that many of us know – the attack on the compound that housed Ambassador Chris Stevens and the attempted rescue mission that led to the attack on the secret CIA compound less than a mile away. This is the real meat and potatoes of the story, in which the six man team consisting of former SEALs, Army Special Forces and Marine Force Recon attempt to repel the militant forces that want to see them dead.
Michael Bay is much more restrained in his approach with 13 Hours than he is with most of his other films, giving us a less glamorous view at warfare and keeping things as gritty as he can. This isn’t a Transformers flick, where people slide down falling buildings while explosions go off all around them. The action feels real and the tension mounts with every second that you see help not coming for the Americans trapped and fighting for their lives.
Screenwriter Chuck Hogan (adapting Mitchell Zuckoff’s book of the same name) writes a tight script, with the focus on the main attack showing both sides of combat action. The downtime between attacks is just as tense as the actual assaults themselves, maybe even more so. The joking between attacks belies the underlying nervousness felt by everyone as they gear up for the next wave.
Da Silva and Rone get the lion’s share of the attention, with the other team members getting their moments to shine every now and then. I would have liked to have seen more of the rest of the squad, giving us maybe a little more reason to become emotionally invested in them. I thought Pablo Schreiber as Kris “Tonto” Paronto stole the show every time he was on screen, showing just how the environment can make someone go just a little bit crazy, having to doubt every person walking around you as a possible enemy combatant.
Still, this was an incredibly emotional and moving film. The courage and bravery shown by not only the six-man security team but by the other combat ready personnel at the CIA compound is inspiring and humbling.
While not a perfect film (The third act drags a bit in the long two-and-a-half hour runtime), this may be Michael Bay’s best film since he started sitting in the director’s chair. It might be the fact that it’s based on a true story so Bay doesn’t have much in terms of wiggle room for being outlandish and over-the-top, but this is the most I’ve enjoyed one of his films in years.