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.

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