Critics that wondered whether Michael Bay could respectfully bring the Benghazi attack to the big screen have been silenced.
Movie lovers with a long memory remember what Bay did with 2001’s “Pearl Harbor” and rightly had reservations as to whether he could honor the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, foreign service officer Sean Smith, and CIA contractors Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods. Luckily, 13 Hours seems as though it was a project that utilized Bay’s strengths and reined in his weaknesses.
The challenges of 13 Hours in many ways mirror those of 2001’s Black Hawk Dawn or 2013’s Lone Survivor. The vast majority of viewers already have a cursory understanding of the historical events being covered and the major players involved, but they can never know how it feels to fight for life on the modern battlefield without the director’s skill.
Bay’s conduit into battlefield chaos is former Navy SEAL Jack Silva, played by John Krasinski. With added muscle, a beard, a few semi-automatic weapons and decent acting chops, it does not take long to forget Krasinski’s past as “Jim” from “The Office.” Silva is the aging warrior with a family who, like many soldiers, finds himself repeatedly drawn back to conflict — if for no other reason than to save the lives of his brothers in arms. Silva’s character quickly creates a rapport with the audience. 13 Hours then presents the diplomatic compound that would be the subject of countless Freedom of Information Act requests and a two-year investigation by the House Intelligence Committee.
Diplomatic Security Agent David Ubben, played by Demetrius Grosse, is told “I hate to piss on your party ladies, but five dudes with M4s is not enough. The locals on your front gate are worthless. The perimeter is soft and this whole compound is a sniper’s f–king paradise. Any big element gets inside here, you guys are going to f–king die.”
It is at that moment that a giant pall of political irresponsibility grows, which points to President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The audience asks, “How is that possible? Why would the State Department permit such a thing? What was the commander in chief thinking?”
Before the mind can wander too far, the first wave of attacks begin on the compound. During lulls in the action the audience, like Silva, ponders the Predator drone endlessly circling above watching…watching…
Everyone knows how 13 Hours ends. The question for audiences then is, “Does it capture the truth?” The answer is one that Democrat front-runner Hillary Clinton may not want to hear.
Vietnam veteran Tim O’Brien wrote in the classic The Things They Carried that “a true war story, if truly told, makes the stomach believe. […] The vapors suck you in. You can’t tell where you are, or why you’re there, and the only certainty is overwhelming ambiguity.”
The stomach believes Ambassador Stevens was recklessly housed in a compound that lacked proper defensive capabilities. The stomach believes the U.S. had a rudderless strategy for securing peace after the fall of Muammar al-Gaddafi, and the stomach believes the Obama administration’s lack of clear and decisive leadership resulted in the death of four Americans on the night of September 11, 2012, in Benghazi, Libya.
The run time of 13 Hours is 144 minutes. Moviegoers — and all Americans who wonder what kind of fruit a “lead from behind” foreign policy bears — owe it to themselves to see Bay’s film during its theatrical release.
Original CBC movie review by Douglas Ernst.