By: Kevin Jordan
Not everything explodes.
“A filmmaking masterpiece” said nobody ever about a Michael Bay film. That was my immediate thought when I heard that quote coming from Mr. Movie Trailer Voice a few days ago. I scoffed at that quote and you’d scoff, too, once you remember that Michael Bay’s last five films (as director) are Transformers, Transformers, Transformers, Pain & Gain, and Transformers. Plus, when you actually watch the trailer for 13 Hours, it looks exactly like every Michael Bay film you’ve ever seen. After watching 13 Hours, I can tell you that Mr. Movie Trailer Voice was definitely hallucinating when he said “A filmmaking masterpiece,” but 13 Hours is a better movie than what we are used to getting from Bay.
(Side note: I am in the minority of people who think Bay is judged way too harshly. Like Quentin Tarantino, he makes a specific type of movie and delivers what people want. I won’t defend all of his movies, but several of them are very good movies and not just from a sheer entertainment standpoint. In related news, Tarantino is judged way too favorably.)
If you’ve been paying attention to politics over the last three years, you will have heard the name Benghazi because there are certain politicians and news outlets who refuse to believe that what happened on September 11, 2012, in Benghazi, Libya, was no more than just a major fuck up by the people responsible for the security of diplomatic outposts. They act as if there was some huge conspiracy headed up by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to get a bunch of Americans killed because…well, they’ve never actually come up with a good motivation for Clinton (or anybody) to do that. What’s good about this film is that Bay doesn’t go down the conspiracy road, but instead, sticks to telling us how the events unfolded with as little political commentary as possible. And, you know that was hard for Bay because, based on his previous films, I’m pretty sure he sleeps under an American flag blanket in a bed shaped like an F-22 and has a pin-up of John McCain’s war photo on the ceiling.
Even if you are sick of hearing about Benghazi, this movie is worth watching for the same reason I recommended movies like Selma and Bridge of Spies – it tells a story about history that you didn’t know. All that most people know of the event is that the outpost was attacked and American Ambassador John Christopher Stevens was killed by Libyan militants. The movie tells the story of six military contractors hired by the CIA to provide security for their secret compound near the American diplomatic outpost. Even better, the movie is based on a book co-written by those contractors (13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi by Mitchell Zuckoff), which explains why not everything in the entire movie explodes, as is normally typical of a Bay film. Instead, it sticks to the facts from the book as much as possible, though with plenty of Bay signatures in the film that leaves no doubt as to who is the man behind the camera.
The part of the story that you don’t know is that after the outpost was attacked, these six contractors (all former special forces soldiers) went to the outpost to rescue the ambassador and his party (spoiler alert: the ambassador doesn’t make it), then returned to the CIA compound to defend it from dozens of militants for several hours. Considering the CIA is part of this story, it’s safe to say that there is a lot of detail missing from the story. I’m guessing that nearly all of the CIA parts and roles were 95% dramatic license, but I’m also fairly comfortable believing we at least got the Cliff’s notes and accurate details regarding the firefights with the militants. Then again, maybe that’s what they want us to think.
What elevates this film above many of Bay’s other films is that it seemed like he was trying a little harder to make a movie that wasn’t just a series of BOOOOOMMMMs. While Bay relies on standard fallbacks to make us care about the characters (they won’t kill children, they only shoot when they are certain “those guys” are the bad guys, and they all have pictures of their families), he at least does that much when he could have just tattooed them with American flags and had them say stuff like “I do this because who else is gonna does this?” The casting was also well done as I had no trouble believing any of these guys were ex-soldiers or dickhead CIA chiefs (nice work, David Costabile). That goes especially for John Krasinski because it’s hard to see him as an ex-Navy SEAL AND as lovable ol’ Jim from The Office. That sentiment goes away roughly halfway through the movie when a shirtless Krasinksy walks out of his quarters, showing off abs that were so awesome my wife perked up – and she wasn’t even at the movie.
In short, if you are looking for a good, solid war drama dealing with a recent event, and you aren’t a film snob that hates Michael Bay movies on principle, 13 Hours will do you nicely. Or, if you are just looking for a non-idiotic Bay film with lots of action, shooting, car chases, and low-angle shots of people getting out of cars, you’ll still be happy watching 13 Hours. Just because he toned down the explosions (and there are still plenty of those) doesn’t mean he’ll give up those other things.
Rating: Don’t ask for any money back, because you can’t say that often after a Bay film.