Finally, the director we’ve all been waiting for, Michael Bay (‘Transformers’), weighs in on the most complex and controversial episode of American military history in recent years: the attack on the US diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012. In fact, Bay hasn’t done that bad a job. He still loves his American flags, and he’ll always be on shaky ground when a movie’s plot basically turns on a bunch of heavily armed bros stranded in a parking lot, waiting for a rescue go-ahead that comes minutes too late.
But when ‘13 Hours’ turns into the two-hour action symphony it can barely wait to become – a harrowing stretch of shadowy aggressors charging the walls of a compound, bullets pinging off metal, spent ammo casings showering cement underfoot, endless carnage – Bay is in his element. This is some of the most concentrated work he has ever done, dropping his customary slo-mo (and some visual coherence) to create a fully intentional chaos that’s as fitting to Benghazi’s Alamo-like standoff as Steven Spielberg’s was to the Normandy landings.
There’s little political commentary here. No actor is cast as Hillary Clinton; nobody questions the selfless heroism of the soldiers involved; and US ambassador John Christopher Stevens, who died in the attack, deserves a more honourable tribute. Chuck Hogan’s screenplay has a hard time carving out distinctive characters from all the bearded warriors – a slimy, indecisive CIA chief (David Costabile) makes the deepest impression. The final word on this incident will require a more thoughtful filmmaker. But hopefully that artist will possess at least half of Michael Bay’s punishing, peerless craft.