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13 Hours

Image copyright Paramount Pictures

Image copyright Paramount Pictures

Warning, incredible bias ahead!

I want to be upfront with you guys.  I freaking love military/war movies.  For example, I viewed Black Hawk Down so many times that the DVD menu was permanently burned onto the screen of my first LCD TV.

It’s this bias towards enjoying war movies that is causing me some serious internal conflict.  While it’s obvious that Michael Bay’s new film 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi blatantly appeals to the Conservative crowd, it’s still a war movie--and a very well filmed one at that.

Amusingly, 13 Hours takes place over the course of five weeks.  It primarily follows six ex-military CIA security contractors as they guard a secret CIA base and its residents in Benghazi, Libya.  It’s only a few months after the fall of Gaddafi and there is a lot of civil unrest within the country.   As things get more and more heated within the city, the American Ambassador, Chris Stevens (Matt Letscher) schedules a visit that overlaps with the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.  

I’m going to assume everyone reading knows what happened that night, because if you’ve lived under a rock big enough to not know about that event, then I can safely assume you don’t have a device that allows you to read this paragraph.

While we get a good amount of screen time with most of the operatives, our ‘main’ characters are Jack Silva (John Krasinski) and ‘Rone’ Woods (James Badge Dale), friends who have worked together on other assignments.  Currently assigned to the covert CIA facility just a few miles from the Benghazi embassy, they chafe under the intolerant and haughty station chief, who is only referred to as Chief or Bob (David Costabile).

This leads to my first issue.  For most of the movie’s run-time, every CIA operative is a major asshat who can’t seem to find their ass from a hole in the ground while the guards are always cool, professional, and ultimately competent in every scenario.

Despite my issues with the politics, the acting is good and the cinematography is absolutely amazing (say what you want about Michael Bay’s films, the man is one of the absolute best at getting the camera to do whatever he wants).  The fight scenes were handled well and very realistically.  In fact, you should not see this film if you cannot handle blood and gore.

There are moments of true tension in the film and there are moments of desperation.  No matter what the scene, it seemed as if Bay knew exactly how to position the camera in order to heighten the emotions.  You can sense the fear and desperation in the later scenes as things grow more and more dangerous for the defenders, even as they lose hope that help is coming.

But there’s my next problem.  The total belief that the contractors are on their own because everyone else is incompetent permeates the film.  Great pains are taken to show every other armed force as useless or too stupid and cowardly to be counted on.  This extends from the Libyan rebel groups and into the Libyan and American militaries.

I think that’s the biggest problem I have with enjoying this movie.  Yes, I do tend to ‘drink the kool-aid’ when it comes to rooting for the U.S. in war movies, but I try to do it from the point of view of rooting for the individual soldiers as they do what’s right for the situation, even if that includes violence and bloodletting.  What I don’t like is when these films try to push a message, especially one that’s been disproven time and time again.

But there’s the rub.  I have my own personal politics.  So do you.  I have no problem with that.  I have a problem with someone pushing an agenda by making innocent people look guilty or slandering competent people.

I think your personal politics will decide how you invariably feel about 13 Hours.  The people who made this film swear up and down that it’s a completely neutral look at the events of September 11, 2012, but I cannot believe that.  Not when someone in my theater yelled ‘Thanks, Hilary!’ and other people laughed and cheered.  A film focused on the heroics of these brave contractors and nothing else would never have elicited that sort of reaction.

Because of this disparity in the film, the well-directed battle scenes, and the good acting mixed with the thinly-veiled political posturing, I'm forced to see this as two different films.  As an action film, it’s damn near an A.  As a blatantly conservative message, it’s close to an F.  Since it would be disingenuous of me to pretend personal beliefs don’t affect how I judge films, I had to compromise for the final score.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Starring: James Badge Dale; John Krasinski

Written by: Chuck Hogan

Directed by: Michael Bay

Running Time: 144 minutes 

Taras D. Butrej is the go-to guy for all the movies nobody else wants to see. Some people believe his levels of masochism cannot be measured. When he's not busy being disappointed in the theater he can be found talking video games on The SML Podcast or talking television on YouTube. He also has a job, but that's not important right now.