"a solid action drama and a welcome change from the juvenile blockbusters that Bay usually makes"
Michael Bay is one of the most despised directors working today. While his films are major money makers that ensure he won’t be out of a job anytime soon, they are often accused of lacking characterisation, having thin plots, showcasing a juvenile sense of humour that only appeals to teenage boys and essentially being brainless blockbusters with no real cinematic worth.
However every so often he does attempt to tackle more serious or grounded subject matters away from the Transformers films which he has seemingly become stuck with. Such is the case with the subject of today’s review 13 Hours, an action packed, fact based drama in which Bay chronicles the terrorist attacks on the US Embassy in Benghazi, Libya in 2012 and the efforts of the men who attempted to defend it.
The plot follows the real life attack that occurred on September 11th 2012, against the US Embassy and CIA compounds situated in the Libyan city of Benghazi, which ultimately led to the death of Christopher Stevens, the US ambassador to Libya. Focusing on a squad of security personal; made up of former Special Forces members as they attempt to fight off a seemingly endless assault from heavily armed attackers on all sides, and unable to receive any kind of military assistance.
You would think that going into a film, whose story was plastered on our TV screens nearly 4 years ago; one would not find it suspenseful given that we already know how the film will end. However you would be wrong. The film is terrifying when the already difficult situation that our protagonists find themselves in, escalates into open warfare. Of particular note is the initial attack on the embassy compound, in which the outnumbered and outgunned security detail is overwhelmed by the sheer number of insurgents, as Ambassador Stevens franticly attempts to find somewhere safe to hide, as the building burns around him. A scene made all the more tragic with the knowledge that Stevens would ultimately perish in the attack.
The acting from the cast is good throughout with the principal ensemble making their Special Forces characters appear heroic and most importantly authentic, which is especially helpful given the real life basis of the characters. Although some of the characters do devolve into stereotypes at times, with the noble and heroic soldiers contrasting with the spineless and cowardly CIA Station Chief who insists the soldiers not rescue the ambassador until given permission.
The film thankfully is lacking in the juvenile sense of humour that has blighted his films for some time. However we are still treated to his “Nobody messes with America” style patriotism that often appears in his films. With some slightly questionable imagery, such as insurgents shooting holes in the American flag as the embassy burns, and somewhat cheesy dialogue like “I’m proud to have known Americans like you”, the patriotism is still slightly awkward and hammy at times. However given the subject matter of the film, the overly patriotic overtones can perhaps be forgiven.
Of course the area where Bay rarely fails is in delivering big explosive action sequences. You have explosive gun battles, heart pounding car chases and Alamo style last stands, all brilliantly staged and executed, with some great visual work from Bay and his crew, particularly in shots in which the camera glides over the security forces and insurgents as they rain destruction down on each other. Aiding the action sequences excellent executions is Bay’s wisely keeping the use of CGI to an absolute minimum, instead relying primarily on practical effects and some excellent stunts, this is definitely some of Bay finest work to date.
The film claims in its opening “This is a true story”, however the accuracy of the film has been subjected to heavy amounts of scrutiny and has faced some political controversy over the depiction of certain events and individuals. Without taking a side in this argument, I would advise viewers not to rely on the film as a primary source for learning about the Benghazi attacks; instead it should encourage viewers to learn more about the attacks themselves so as to see the complete picture.
13 Hours is a solid action drama and a welcome change from the juvenile blockbusters that Bay usually makes. With fine performances from the main cast, some brilliantly staged action sequences and a suspenseful fact based story, the film is a fitting tribute to the efforts of those who tried to defend the American compounds in Benghazi despite the overwhelming odds some of whom unfortunately lost their lives.