Trevor Law and myself trashed this film pretty hard when the first trailer dropped months ago. And rightfully so; Michael Bay has been pumping out some utter garbage the last few years. Horribly written characters coupled with frantic and indistinguishable action scenes from film to film have made me hate his style. However something is remarkably different with 13 Hours and because of that, I walked away stunned that it wasn’t a stinker. Check out what made this film “tolerable”…
A common criticism of Michael Bay movies are the over the top action scenes. And as I said above, they are usually indistinguishable. That’s not the case with 13 Hours, we can track mostly everything going on with the band of GRS operators. It didn’t hold up during the last scenes of the final fight; it started to look a lot like the Transformers final fight in Revenge of the Fallen minus the CGI scrotum. Despite that issue at the end, the action was very solid overall.
With all the issues surrounding Benghazi, this might have been why the material was treated with more care by Bay. It’s evident in the way he dealt with the characters. Now, they are still suspect to some of the same caricatures that Bay is known for. I was surprised that it was toned down, but the issue are still there. The operators are shells of better characters, the CIA chief is a joke in his execution (although I really like the actor David Costabile), and so many others have no importance or substance it’s mind numbing. It’s incredible that more care was given to ensure the action scenes were respectable, but none was given to the most important part of the film.
Because of this fact, all the efforts made to make you care about them fall on deaf ears. And the tactics used weren’t out of left field, like showing Jack’s (John Krasinki) family back home, flashbacks of time at home, and the various backgrounds of the characters. But the reason they are in Benghazi is left so vague, with the exception of Ambassador Stevens, we can’t root for them. It’s not like American Sniper or even Saving Private Ryan where we have easier times understanding the motivations for being in battle. With 13 Hours, it’s more complex and simply making the CIA chief a prick doesn’t help the audience understand what the problem is. Yeah, we see that it’s bad situation, but why is it a bad one. You can’t assume that the audience knows this, it’s still the responsibility of the film to address the crappy situation they were in. Why is the CIA chief so concerned with not engaging in combat? If you pursue that a bit more, we will be able to relate and have a vested interest when the Chief become overwhelmed and the GRS operators take over. Without that extra edge, it just seems like a bunch of dudes that wanted to buck authority.
Bay does a good job showing that the threat is credible and how weak the compound defense was. When the attack gets started, we don’t doubt the problems they are going to encounter because of the little walk-through we get early on. But that’s not enough to negate the organizational issues that occurred up above. I don’t need to know every step that lead to the poor decision making and lack of resources at Benghazi. As a member of the audience though, I need to have a vested interest with the heroes of the story and understand the problems in their way. Showing them with their shirts off and pulling tractor tires at odd times doesn’t exactly help with that.
13 Hours could have been an absolute train wreck and it wasn’t, but even with Michael Bay not sleepwalking through this production, the gaping issues will make sure that this doesn’t become an instant classic. By not dealing the background elements enough, Bay ensured we wouldn’t actually care about the outcome.
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi: 6 out of 10
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