Controversial director Michael Bay delivers his best film in years despite its imperfections. Based on a true story, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi tells the story of a group of 6 soldiers who are left in Libya after Colonel Gaddafi is overthrown to guard a secret CIA Base, from attack by militia.
This is the third time in his career that Bay has attempted to tell a true story, but this time it feels like he has found the right balance between fact and fiction to tell a fascinating story.
The film stars John Krasinski and James Badge Dale as soldiers Jack Silva and Tyrone Woods, who lead a team that includes Pablo Schreiber as Tanto, David Denman as Boon, Dominic Fumusa as Tig and Max Martini as Oz, to defend both a base that officially doesn’t exist, as well as help protect the American ambassador.
The real stand out in this film was John Krasinski. He steals the film as Silva, showing phenomenal range as an actor, showing the mixed emotions his character has of leaving his family in the US. He has a phenomenal emotional moment towards the end of the film that sticks with you long after you leave the cinema.
If Krasinski steals the film however Dale was a close runner-up, one of the best scenes in the whole film take place in the first 5-10 minutes where Dale attempts to talk down a group of militia whilst being held at gun point. The scene is equally as memorable, showing how vulnerable the soldiers really were in this country, the scene was our first introduction to how violent Libya was.
Whilst the first hour is tough to get through with not a lot happening, the last hour and 20 minutes is a roller coaster full of amazing action set pieces and haunting emotional moments.
However the film is far from perfect, whilst there isn’t loads of typical Michael Bay traits, they still exist, the humor at times felt forced and out of place in such a tense story. Product placement existed throughout, including an incredibly forced McDonalds joke that took away from the emotional moments taking place around it.
And whilst the action scenes were incredible at times, the violence seemed gratuitous particularly during the third act. Sometimes less is more in films like this and Bay milked the violence a few times more than was necessary and it certainly took away its impact.
Another Bay criticism is how he portrays female characters in his films. And although this is not as blatant here as in his other films it does exist in the form of Alexia Barlier’s character, whose role seemed to be just to complain in inappropriate times despite her character being described as a highly intelligent diplomat.
The film is roughly 2 hours and 20 minutes, but feels way longer. The first hour really drags with not a lot happening. It could easily had 20 minutes cut out, as there are a lot of unnecessary shots of characters putting night goggles on and reloading guns.
Despite there being flaws, the good outweighs the bad. The film offers an important look at how bad things are in Libya right now and offers insight into the beginning of ISIS. Its topical themes are the films strength and its perspective on current world events certainly help in the films bigger emotional scenes.
Krasinski and Dale steal the show in a film that delivers memorable action set pieces and haunting emotional moments. Whilst far from perfect Michael Bay delivers his best film in a long time, finally finding the right balance between fact and fiction to tell a compelling story.
By Simon Hanson