********* 7 out of 10 *********
Director: Michael Bay
Actors: James Badge Dale, John Krasinski
A Michael Bay movie gives the impression to many that its viewership could not extend to anyone other than teenage boys or men who still want to be teenage boys. Blame it on the Transformers series, all four movies having been directed by Michael Bay, or to the overwhelming box-office success of the franchise much to the chagrin of critics and those in the audience who behave like quasi-critics. Whether Transformers is unjustifiably attacked, is a topic of discussion for another day, but what I can safely say now is that Michael Bay is much more than a director who can make special effects laden robots attack our planet. 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, or simply put as 13 Hours, is Michael Bay’s work for an older audience, the ‘mature’ audience, and in this 144-minute long movie, he shows that our real world is no less frightening than the one where Decepticons are unleashed.
On the 9th of September, 2012, the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, an American diplomatic compound in Benghazi in Libya came under heavy terrorist attack. This is a true event, even though we wish it wasn’t. Brave men fought to save lives that day, brave men lost lives in the line of duty that day. 13 Hours relives those scary hours in Benghazi when six members of an American security team had to defend the diplomatic compound and safeguard the inhabitants from wave after wave of extremist militants. The screenplay by Chuck Hogan has been adapted by the 2014 book written by Mitchell Zuckoff. It begins with events a few days prior to the attack when Jack Da Silva (John Krasinski) joins the security team in Benghazi led by Tyrone “Rone” Woods (James Badge Dale). The upheaval of the civilian life in Libya is clear right from the beginning, as the movie starts off on a tense note. From thereon, there is hardly any moment to feel relaxed.
Hogan’s screenplay does switch off at times, scattering around in a few places when it could have been tighter. Also, I can’t say I am a fan of the editing work done in the movie. Nonetheless, it does more than enough to show the kind of tensions that swirl in the region as things are built up dramatically for the attacks on 9th September. Michael Bay captures the chaos that emerges on that particular day by rapidly swinging from one viewpoint to another, as the security team, and the audience too, are grappling to understand what has hit them. By keeping things a bit muddled when the attacks begin, Bay adds an extra amount of uncertainty which makes the events all the more gripping, though some may be put off by the lack of clarity. As the area descends into chaos, the movie also puts forth the question – was it worth the American lives? – a question which quite a few movies of such kind seem to be asking. But Bay does not forget his heroes, the real heroes of that day, the ‘secret soldiers’ who were ready to beat the odds and do their jobs. Bay makes them stand taller than the rest, he lets their bravado shine without losing the sense of realism. He knows how to stir emotions in an action sequence, from despair to glory, something that made the long battle sequences in the Transformers series so engrossing, and those same fundamentals make 13 Hours highly captivating on an emotional level.
There isn’t really a singular hero in 13 Hours, but John Krasinski and James Badge Dale get most of the screen time as key members of the security team. Both are physically beefed up to make for imposing personalities, the kind you would be comfortable with in hiring for your protection. But they also carry a softer side to their personalities, as friends, fathers and husbands, which is well developed and executed in the movie. Pablo Schreiber as Tanto brings in the lighter moments, until the scenes stop demanding them. David Denman, Dominic Fumusa and Max Martini play the other three members of the team, though are lost at times as fringe players of the group. The whole team has a decent camaraderie about them, though the screenplay could have solidified it a bit more. David Costabile does quite a good job in displaying the different shades in the personality of the CIA chief in Benzaghi, who is at loggerheads with the security team initially before coming to rely on them. Most of the other supporting cast put in their fair share of work to carry the movie astutely forward.
The grim display of reality in 13 Hours is done with a cinematic flourish that Michael Bay is adept at. It may not be to everyone’s liking, but there is still a maturity with which Bay has handled this movie which makes it much more engaging that I had previously imagined. As Michael Bay steps into the director’s shoes for a fifth Transformers movie, I hope he also continues to focus on the other side of the cinema, the one which is more real, with stories that need to be told such as 13 Hours.