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It’s no secret that Michael Bay seems the type of filmmaker who deals less in politics than he does in patriotism. Many of his films involve strong military presence and the relationship he has spent years cultivating with the US military runs deep. His respect and admiration for the soldiers who fight in order to maintain the freedoms and liberties of their country is evident. So when a film comes around about an important event in history dealing with soldiers from the United States who engage in the fight of their lives in order to protect American civilians against the enemy, and a fellow by the name of Michael Bay gets hold of it, you can be sure that no matter what, you will be taken for a ride Bay style.
Things get moving fairly quickly, with only marginal set up as we follow Jack (John Krasinski) who touches down in Benghazi at the start to meet with his best friend Rone (James Badge Dale). They move to meet up with four other members to form a security team with the objective to provide additional support to the US Consulate. There is a palpable, tense energy that permeates the film well before the first explosion and pretty soon, members of an Islamic military group spot the Americans while on assignment to try and close a deal with a distinguished couple. It becomes clear that danger is imminent and Jack and his team must move quickly if they are going to escape it. After an intense car chase getting the official action rolling, there is a brief moment of calm before the storm hits and the six men spring into the action proper.
Here again, as with most any Bay affair, the action is the bread and butter, the life blood of the picture. It is visceral and intense. Expertly planned and executed. No surprise there. What is surprising is the performances of the key actors, every one bringing verisimilitude and heft to their respective roles. James Badge Dale obviously is the standout here. There is an electricity within him that you may have seen in some of his previous roles, but here, every time he is onscreen you can almost touch the charge he delivers. Krasinski is also impressive, who knew that good ‘old Jim from US version of The Office could get so ripped and possess such an intimidating bearing? He comes to play and play hard he does. Unfortunately, he is not around enough, this movie belongs to Badge Dale, who keeps things moving as the Annex security team leader.
What becomes a little irksome with 13 Hours are the bits that remind you that at the end of the day, you are watching a movie. For instance, bits of extraneous dialogue that serve to infuse a serious film with some humor, which do not feel authentic. They feel like the dialogue is there for people who are spectators to the action, which in reality, we are. However, if we are watching a film touted as a true story, it might be less annoying if there were more effort put into making interactions between characters feel like they would actually transpire in certain situations. If you and your buddy are preparing for a standoff against people who want you dead, you would not make a joke about your buddy forgetting his tampon. That does not feel authentic at all and it takes you out of the movie. You would not comment aloud on how mundane a firefight in the neighborhood seems to the locals, as if the audience needs prodding to understand the strangeness of such a thing. Those visuals should speak for themselves. ‘Show, don’t tell,’ as the age old adage goes, but by now, we know that Michael Bay all about slamming some things over your head.
13 Hours is a drama packaged as an action thrill ride. Coming from a director like Bay, you should expect nothing more. The cinematography is strong. It is not at all lyrical, but there are great sweeping camera shots. The action is fluid and the camera captures it all clearly. The acting is solid as mentioned earlier, but beyond that, there really isn’t any substance that makes you feel much emotion. This is testosterone-laden fare done the way only Michael Bay could do, his personal tribute to the heroic soldiers of Benghazi. In an election year, perhaps this is better than something a more thoughtful director might have offered.