Michael Bay loses the robots and comes up with an unexpectedly effective real-life war film.
Finally, the director we’ve all been waiting for—Mr. Bayhem himself—weighs in on the most complex and controversial episode of American military history in recent years. With that joke out of the way, let’s grapple with a more difficult truth: Bay hasn’t done that bad a job. He still loves his American flags (this time, it floats limply in an abandoned Libyan embassy’s swimming pool), 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 came minutes too late.
But when 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi turns into the two-hour-long 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 the cement underfoot, endless carnage—this director is completely in his wheelhouse. It’s some of the most concentrated work Bay has ever done, dropping his customary slo-mo (and a fair amount of visual coherence) to create a fully intentional chaos that feels as fitting to Benghazi's Alamo-like midnight standoff as Steven Spielberg’s Normandy Invasion did to Saving Private Ryan.
There’s very little political commentary here. No actor is cast as Hillary Clinton, firing off secret emails; nobody questions the selfless heroism of the soldiers involved; and ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, a casualty of the attack, deserves a more honorable tribute—he’s a bit of an afterthought. Even when embodied by a cast that includes John Krasinski and A Separation’s Peyman Moaadi, 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 Bay’s punishing, peerless craft.
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf
|Release date:||Friday January 15 2016|
Cast and crew