A Gung-Ho Michael Bay Celebrates Male Heroes In “13 Hours: The Battle Of Benghazi”

Michael Bay gets to celebrate his two favourite things – America and male heroes – in 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. The stylish retelling of a real life attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost stars James Badge Dale and John Krasinki.

A Gung-Ho Michael Bay Celebrates The Male Hero In "13 Hours: The Battle Of Benghazi"The real life terror attack at a U.S. diplomatic compound on September 11 2012 forms the basis for director Michael Bay’s celebration of testosterone-fuelled heroism, facial hair and heavy weaponry. This recognisably gung-ho shoot ‘em up retells the tale of the Battle of Benghazi from the point of view of a bunch of American security contractors who run to the aid of a stranded U.S. Ambassador after he is ambushed at his opulent residence.

Simply styled as an “us” versus “them” micro-war, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is self-consciously unapologetic in its patriotic approach, painting its heroes and villains with broad strokes. The yellow hue of the dusty “Middle East”, with its abandoned, bullet-speckled buildings and bearded men sporting deep tans, underlines a sense of otherness; an environment to be feared. Bay’s symbolic, high contrast montages offer ethereal but provocative layers to complement his metaphorical battlefield; slow-mo sequences of bullets tearing an American flag to pieces and archive news footage of 9/11 prescribing the sort of bad blood needed to raise the stakes for our all-American heroes.

If you can stomach the staging, Bay executes his own war on terror with a sweat-dripping energy that presents the heat of battle as well as the confusing paranoia of street-to-street fighting quite well. But if Bay’s conservative politics and one-dimensional characterisation grates, then the Battle of Benghazi is less likely to captivate, feeling more like a videogame played out by a trigger-happy over-caffeinated teenager.

A Gung-Ho Michael Bay Celebrates The Male Hero In "13 Hours: The Battle Of Benghazi"

It’s unusual, but Bay’s usually fine-tuned radar to casting male heroes is off. John Krasinski, best known for his comic role in the US version of The Office, feels somewhat out of place next to the oozing masculinity of James Badge Dale and the ensemble of muscular fodder forming the team of “secret soldiers” alluded to in the film’s title. Krasinski does a commendable job with limited material but, unlike Badge Dale, is unable to elevate his character beyond the perfunctory. Badge Dale has the right combination of military might and bad-boy spontaneity needed to capture our attention.

This is in contrast to Krasinski who is weighed down by a sentimental side-plot involving his perennially aggrieved wife who has been left to fend for herself and the kids back home. This isn’t the only example of women getting short shrift under Bay who ensures CIA undercover agent Sona Jillani (Alexia Barlier) is constantly “saved” from danger by her male protectors. Her ineptitude in hostile territory is actually representative of the director’s less-than complimentary depiction of America’s chief foreign intelligence gathering agency which, in 13 Hours, is a poorly led operation by men and women only effective in offices not foxholes.

Being a film about real life people and the death of Americans on foreign soil necessitates a level of seriousness that perhaps hampers the film’s overall appeal as an epic action-adventure. However, when, in its second half, it turns into a B-movie about the last line of defence, 13 Hours is far more entertaining. There’s an inkling of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or even Assault on Precinct 13 as a band of brave warriors protect and serve. Badge Dale even gets his own Commando moment as he saddles up for war in slow motion; a bloodied, bruised, greasy brow the frame on which to hang a big gun and lots of bullets.

Commemorating the memories of those that gave their lives to protect vulnerable Americans against foreign hostility, 13 Hours is a film that will please fans of Michael Bay’s patriotic approach and sense of pace, style and cipher over substance and invention. As an action film it is, at times, a handsome and enthralling piece of cinema; but as a depiction, or critique, of foreign policy it’s hampered by a single-mindedness limiting its scope.

13 Hours, Three Stars

Written by Dan Stephens

A Gung-Ho Michael Bay Celebrates The Male Hero In "13 Hours: The Battle Of Benghazi"Directed by: Michael Bay
Written by: Chuck Hogan
Starring: James Badge Dale, John Krasinski, Max Martini, Toby Stephens, Freddie Stroma

Released: 2015 / Genre: Action/War
Country: USA / IMDB
More reviews: Latest | Archive

Dan Stephens
About the Author
Dan Stephens is the founder and editor of Top 10 Films. He's usually pondering his next list, often inspired by his adoration for 1980s Hollywood, a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    Dan Grant Reply

    I couldn’t disagree more about your political analysis of the film, Dan. I have heard others echo your thoughts and I think it’s kind of unfair that Bay is under a different microscope than other film makers and their war films. Did Apocalypse Now show the side of the Viet Cong? Did Platoon try to do the same? Did Saving Private Ryan show any sympathy towards the Germans, give them a back story? 13 Hours of Bengazi does a lot of things right. I personally don’t think the war on terror is everything that we are lead to believe it is and I don’t think 9/11 happened exactly the way they said it did, but that doesn’t mitigate or minimize what these soldiers or security guards went through. This is more about friendship than it is about making a political statement. I actually thought Bay was really restrained in a lot of areas…..and I personally thought Krasinski was quite good. The action was really well done, like you mentioned. I just think your criticism of it is a little unfair.

    • Avatar
      Dan Reply

      Thanks for reading and commenting Dan.

      I think it’s difficult to compare the film to two of cinema’s most notable anti-war films in Apocalypse Now and Platoon (there were no heroes here) which makes the representation of the antagonist somewhat moot because the criticisms are levelled at those fighting for the “cause” and the failures in the political and institutional system that sent those men to die.

      In 13 Hours – a film that’s pro-hero, pro-military power – you can’t help but criticise that self-consciousness, or feel a sense of discomfort, when the villains, and indeed the inference of threat, is simplified by symbolic stereotype.

      It’s also difficult to say – “well, it’s more a film about “friendship” than a “political statement”” – when Bay has actively chosen to depict a real event with obvious political overtones and an incendiary subject matter. He could have entirely fictionalised a film about “friendship” in battle to avoid those sorts of political criticisms. So, I’d argue that in this respect my criticism isn’t unfair.

      Bay does get things right in the film and it’s far more enjoyable when you can avoid considering it as a piece of fact-based cinema. The second half is particularly good at times when the security contractors are protecting the base. And yes, some of the action is really effective.

  2. Avatar
    Dan Grant Reply

    I see what you are saying. I still disagree and maybe a lot of it has to do with my beliefs concerning American political foreign policy. I don’t want to get into cloak and dagger, tin foil hat stuff but just to touch on it briefly, I think America has carte blanch to do whatever they want to do and them being in places like Afghanistan and Iraq and Sudan and Syria and so on, has really nothing to do with liberating the people but more with their own political agenda…in other words to make the rich even richer. With this in mind, I have always found Bay to be very proud of his military but not necessarily his government. And this is why I thought he was so restrained in the film. It would have been easy for him to take a lot more liberties towards his government but instead he chose to focus on what these people went through.

    To me, he tried to capture the frenetic and confusing feelings these guys must have been going through. They had no way of knowing who was there to help or who was there to blow their brains out. This I think he did very well. And I felt that he did an excellent job in the aftermath of humanizing the people of Bengazi. He showed that there was a lot of support and regret coming from most of Libya and that what they were facing were pockets of resistance.

    We disagree on the film and that’s fine. We’re all entitled to our opinions. I always enjoy reading your thoughts, even if I disagree with them, which doesn’t happen too often.

    • Avatar
      Dan Reply

      Good points. Bay is less-than complimentary about the CIA in the film which could be his attempt at criticising governmental policy (still, it looks like desk clerks versus heroic man mountains to me – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). However, I like your theory about the director’s opinion on government versus military.

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