13 Hours unravels Benghazi's murky details
Movies | Director Michael Bay allows the facts to speak for themselves
by Megan Basham
Posted 1/15/16, 08:30 am
When Paramount first announced in October 2014 that it had hired Michael Bay, best known for films like Bad Boys and Transformers (that is, films with little more intellectual depth than the average video game), to direct a movie about the attack in Benghazi, industry eyes rolled. It wasn’t long before some entertainment news sites and blogs began to refer to the project derisively as “Bayghazi.”
Perhaps it’s precisely because of his chops handling overblown, violent action that Bay proves his critics wrong. With 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, he has crafted a story that skillfully unravels the murky details of what happened in Libya the night of Sept. 11, 2012, bringing the audience face-to-face with the unrelenting (and, clearly, pre-planned) strikes against the U.S. Consulate and CIA annex.
We still see the hallmarks of Bay’s work: The film includes swagger, hoo-rah, constant explosions, and macho bits of dialogue that would sound at home in any of his previous films—“We’re going to put the fear of God and the United States into them.” But for once, because of the context, none of it feels ludicrous. Spend five minutes listening to three of the real military contractors at the heart of the story, and it’s clear the script nails the constant jokes and banter they use to relieve tension in the most stressful of situations. (Their R-rated language also is constant, but feels realistic.)
Bay even manages to handle Benghazi’s polarizing politics deftly.
As he and everyone associated with the film have repeatedly insisted, there’s nothing overtly partisan about 13 Hours. President Barack Obama is heard only briefly, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is never mentioned. This makes sense as the film stays tightly focused on what the former Navy SEALS and Army Rangers experienced when they defied orders and attempted to rescue Ambassador Chris Stevens and his communication aides from an assault by Islamic extremists. There’s little chance that in the midst of battle, with their lives on the line, they were thinking about what the secretary of state was doing. But they were thinking about what the CIA chief standing in front of them was doing, and the behavior of this Ivy-league bureaucrat is enough to indict all the administration officials who stood by and repeatedly denied help to the four Americans who died that night.
Facts speak for themselves, and Bay pulls no punches on that score. At one point, group leader Tyrone Woods (James Badge Dale) tells new-arrival Jack (John Krasinski) that news reports are saying a spontaneous demonstration is to blame for the attack. After everything we’ve seen, we know enough to scoff along with them. Later, when the CIA chief tells Woods he’s trying to get local Libyan police to respond to the consulate’s distress calls but that they aren’t answering, Woods fires back, “What about our government? Anyone picking up the phone there?” Moments like these make it crystal clear that Bay believes the men on the ground who state, unequivocally, that they were given orders to “stand down” and thinks the audience should believe them as well.
But more important than all of this, 13 Hours gives honor where honor is due by helping us understand the courage and integrity it took for a team of private military contractors to risk their lives with no support from their government to rescue those being led away to death and protect those staggering toward slaughter.
Those in authority above them may say, as in Proverbs 24, “But we knew nothing about this.” But they, at least, were not slack in the day of the distress.
See also “Paramount walks Benghazi tightrope.”
Megan, a regular correspondent for WORLD News Group, is a writer and film critic living in Charlotte, N.C. She is the author of Beside Every Successful Man: A Woman's Guide to Having It All.