REVIEW: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

12 01 2016

What happens when you send Bay to do a Bigelow’s job? You get “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” an account of the 2012 siege of the Libyan embassy that proves both thrilling and frustrating.

Director Michael Bay honors the memory of the fallen and exalts the survivors in a way that recalls “Lone Survivor” or “Black Hawk Down.” When he turns his attention towards human beings and away from clanging clumps of pixels known as transformers, the man can sure craft a compelling action scene. Of course, his consistently shaky camera and manic editing patterns can result in some massive confusion, but he sustains the momentum of mounting dread for nearly two and a half hours. That’s no hack job.

But Bay falls short of Peter Berg, Ridley Scott and especially Kathryn Bigelow by painting in some questionably broad strokes. The expectation of any American war movie is that the troops are de facto heroes; to Bay’s credit, he has them earn their nobility rather than just assume the audience grants it to them. The titular “secret soldiers,” a paramilitary group of private defense contractors, act decisively to protect American interests. They are heroes for what they do, not simply for who they are.

Bay does not, however, grant the same level of thought to any other characters in the film. I’ll leave an analysis the sexist attitudes towards the lone female character present in Benghazi to thinkpieces on Jezebel, though I imagine Bay finds it progressive because he did not introduce her legs-first. (Credit on that joke goes to Kyle Buchanan at Vulture.) Anti-intellectual themes also run deep in the film’s veins, but I will again refrain from retaliating simply because I disagree.

John Krasinski in 13 Hours

No, the bigger issue in “13 Hours” is how he portrays and contextualizes the Libyan conflict that preceded the Benghazi attack. Bay and screenwriter Chuck Hogan take “ripped from the headlines” a little too literally, presenting background information only in title cards preceding the narrative. Sure, this might beat giving the soldiers clunky exposition to spout off, but it drops the intelligence level significantly. Audiences presumptively want some window into the global fight against terrorism by seeing the movie; otherwise, they could just get a more boisterous shoot-em-up sequence in any fantasy-based movie.

This simplification of the conflict has dangerous consequences for the film. Rather than explain the civil strife that followed the vacuum left by the toppling of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Bay and Hogan shrug it off and just say that no one in the region can ever really be trusted. Without clear factions or sides, the process of making judgement calls on a one-off basis apparently seems too taxing.

There’s a strand running through the film that these Libyan and Muslim lives are somehow worth less than the Americans, even those working within their diplomatic community. “13 Hours” makes a fallacious jump from the notion that some Muslims are dangerous to one that all are inherently suspicious to some extent. In a time where many apply the same logic in an attempt to shut the country’s doors on refugees in need, the underlying message that Muslims are guilty until proven innocent is troubling.

This is especially disappointing considering that the script takes efforts to humanize Peyman Moaadi’s Amahl, a key player at the U.S. outpost whose presence is crucial to understanding the natives of Libya. “13 Hours” is miles ahead of something like “American Sniper” in the depiction of non-Americans (though that film had clearly defined enemies and conflicts). None of this greatly stains the heroism of the soldiers – especially not protagonist Jack Silva, a soldier portrayed with real weight by John Krasinski.

But the manner in which Bay drums up support might not represent the best rallying cry to obtain justice and accountability for the victims. The soldiers did the fighting against the real enemies of America. They do not need a movie trying to suggest there were more. B2halfstars



One response

13 01 2016

Michael Bay belongs in the same circle with the likes of Donald Trump, the Kartrashians, and Justin Bieber as scums of the Earth.

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