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13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi Reviews

Reviewed By: Gelb Dan

After the overthrow of political leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya devolved into an unstable environment torn apart by various warring factions. While most countries closed their embassies in Libya, the United States decided to maintain a small diplomatic compound inside Benghazi, the nation's second largest city. Approximately a mile away from that outpost was a covert CIA base, which housed high-level intelligence agents and was protected by six private-security contractors. Those contractors, all ex-military, were led by Tyrone S. Woods (James Badge Dale), and included Jack Silva (John Krasinski) and Kris "Tanto" Paronto (Pablo Schreiber).On the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, local militants launch a siege of the diplomatic building after learning that U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens (Matt Letscher) is stationed there. The security team initially remained at the CIA base at the behest of its operating chief (David Costabile), despite their desire to protect the "Ambo." They eventually defy orders and head towards the embassy, fighting off militants and searching for American survivors. But the attack on the embassy was just the beginning of the battle, as the militants then shifted their focus to the CIA base. With outside help slow to arrive, the six-man security team are tasked with protecting the CIA employees and fending off the attackers in an all-night skirmish.Director Michael Bay has long been a whipping boy for critics who hate the bloated, big-budget version of cinema that he represents. It would be easy, and maybe even lazy, to condemn 13 Hours for the unfortunate hallmarks of his style -- melodramatic slow-motion battle scenes, a barrage of one-liners, and clumsy handheld camerawork. Yet Bay also has an undeniable understanding of the craft of action movies, and he uses those stylistics tics here with varying degrees of success; the end result is an uneven but visually effective combat picture.Bay unintentionally makes the sextet of private-sector warriors hard to root for, despite the truly tragic fact that some of these men lost their lives in Benghazi. They're all brash alpha males who have families at home, yet are neglecting their duties as husbands and fathers in order to serve as covert, handsomely paid soldiers. More to the point, the honor of serving one's country feels cheapened when it's applied to ex-military private contractors. Krasinski's character even voices this opinion when, during a lull in gunfire, he remarks that he honestly shouldn't even be in Libya. It's a subtle jab at both the War on Terror and the private sector's involvement in foreign wars, but it's a half-realized argument. 13 Hours is by no means an antiwar film, and it refuses to glean any deeper meaning from the events it depicts.Perhaps the most admirable aspect of the movie is that it chooses to tell a human story within the scope of a war drama, instead of focusing on the inflammatory debate surrounding Benghazi. Screenwriter Chuck Hogan (adapting a nonfiction book by journalist Mitchell Zuckoff and the "Annex Security Team") devotes the first 30 minutes to filling in the backstories of these mercenaries, and he intersperses the chaotic action sequences with personal moments. Audiences will not hear the names Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton mentioned once in 13 Hours, despite the curious timing of the movie's release during an election year. Bay is much more concerned with recreating the visceral combat of Benghazi and honoring the men involved than delving into the politics, and for that, 13 Hours stakes its claim as a soundly engaging war film.