Director: Michael Bay
Cast: James Badge Dale, John Krasinski
Watch 13 Hours online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Sky Store / Google Play
Halfway through 13 Hours, the action stops and silence descends. The camera soars into the air and picks out a mortar. We follow it through the sky as it descends and detonates on the roof of a CIA station. It’s a beautifully crafted little moment in the middle of a sea of chaos – and those familiar with Michael Bay’s work will recognise it from Pearl Harbour.
Sure enough, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi swiftly ticks all the boxes you’d expect from the director: manly macho men doing their manly macho duty for the United States of America, the manliest macho country in the world. Soon, the manly macho men are trading manly macho bullets with other men, who are not American, less manly and nowhere near as macho.
The film tells the story of an attack on a US consulate in Benghazi that took place in 2012. The unexpected onslaught lasted through the night, a from-dusk-till-dawn scenario that perfectly aligns with the director’s boys-against-the-bad-guys sentiment. The action is blisteringly intense, as Bay pulls out all the stops to wreak havoc – and by “stops”, of course, we mean guns. Big guns, small guns, guns that can shred cars and American flags in the blink of an eye.
Given the confined location, Bay does well to keep the set pieces varied, fitting in a scrunchy car chase as well as the usual on-foot manoeuvres – one sequence inside a burning building, with the ceilings perilously aflame, is genuinely riveting.
But, at two and a half hours, the whole thing inevitably goes on for too long – something that’s not helped by the standard slow-build first half, which introduces each of our main soldiers (to call them “characters” is perhaps a stretch), complete with manly macho banter and sweethearts back home. One pops up for 10 seconds on Skype just to tell her husband: “The girls don’t need a treehouse… they need you.”
Chuck Hogan’s script, based on Mitchell Zuckoff’s book, isn’t his strongest – Ben Affleck’s The Town, based on his book, managed testosterone-heavy confrontations better. “You can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys,” Rone (James Badge Dale) tells Jack (Krasinski), as he gives him the opening tour of the city. “Welcome to Libya,” he adds.
Krasinski may seem like an unlikely choice to head up an action flick, but it’s one of several surprises the film has in store: the actor, who won hearts with his nice-guy turn in the US remake of The Office, sells his conflicted trooper with real conviction – even his attempt at a butch beard is convincing. James Badge Dale, meanwhile, is excellent as the rough-and-ready Rone, a veteran of Benghazi who’s unafraid to buck orders. The tough-as-nuts ensemble, which also includes Orange Is the New Black’s Pablo Schreiber, manages to elevate Hogan’s screenplay to a believable level of camaraderie between our heroes – which is all the movie needs to execute its run-of-the-mill thrills.
But what’s unexpected is the portrayal of the central six soldiers: these men aren’t heroes primarily because they shot foreigners, or (in some cases) laid down their lives, but because they disobeyed orders to defend the diplomatic compound. 13 Hours, on the surface, is a stereotypical gung-ho affair, but like American Sniper, which was mistaken for being nothing more than a jingoistic hagiography, there’s a slight edge to this patriotic affair – the government intelligence guiding the US presence in Libya is presented as wrong at best and incompetent at worst, with big-wig help too far away to make a different when the proverbial hits the fan.
Even with the liberties of dramatisation that will undoubtedly apply, the choice to tell this story is a bold one – particularly in the UK, where most will be unfamiliar with the events depicted. 13 Hours is far from the same level of depth and substance as, say, Tobias Lindholm’s A War, but those shades of grey are enough to make the action film stand apart from the pack. Well, that and the manly macho guns. Did we mention those?
13 Hours is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.49 monthly subscription.
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Photo: Paramount Pictures / 3 Arts Entertainment