13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi

February 24, 2016

Review, Theatrical 1 Comment

“…as ideologically facile as one might expect it to be…”
13 Hours

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi

By Matthew Lowe
Year: 2015
Rating: MA
Director: Michael Bay

John Krasinski, Pablo Schreiber, James Badge Dale

Distributor: Paramount
Released: February 25, 2016
Running Time: 144 minutes
Worth: $8.00

FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth

…as ideologically facile as one might expect it to be…

In 2012, following the death of Muammar Gaddafi and the fall of the Libyan regime, the US posted CIA operatives to Benghazi, ostensibly to gather intel on warring guerrilla factions and to stem the tide of black market arms trading. Six men brought in as contractor bodyguards were tasked with protecting the US ambassador on his visit to the city, but the operation went fatally wrong when the embassy was attacked and torched. A thirteen-hour siege followed, between the Americans and the nameless Benghazi factions bent on killing them, as the CIA scrambled to abort their operation and flee the country.

Based on Mitchell Zuckoff’s book of the same title, Michael Bay’s (Transformers) celluloid adaptation is as ideologically facile as one might expect it to be. 13 Hours is 144 minutes of rapid gun fire, explosions, and frantic running. No attempt whatsoever is made to examine or even identify the nature of the conflict: neither why the Americans need to be there, nor why the Libyans want to kill them. The fact that Bay’s only interest is in the sensory aspect of conflict wholly undermines the serious nature of the subject matter.

The six bodyguards who are the ensemble protagonists of the film are all action-hero caricatures whose moral infallibility is designed to deliberately reflect the pantomime version of the country that they represent: America the Great Protector, Guardian of the Universe. Of all the Libyans in the film, there is about one – a translator, working for the CIA – who is not seen packing a gun or braying for blood. They never get the chance to speak or say anything; they are depicted mostly as lethal automatons. Filmed mostly in the shadows by Bay, they more than often don’t even have faces. While every American casualty is treated as grievous, the Libyans are popped off indiscriminately throughout. If from all this one might conjecture that Bay is making a point, in practice, it never feels like his political apathy extends beyond adrenalised patriotism, and that is the film in a nutshell.




  1. JamesB66

    Matthew, I disagree. The film is about American values and courage under duress, made with domestic consumption in mind. The then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was evasive during the follow up Senate investigation, and had led the White House’s spurious efforts to blame the attacks on a spontaneous response to the release of an obscure film, instead of an attack planned to coincide with 9/11.

    There’s also the issue of how closely Bay worked with the surviving contractors and Zuckoff to as accurately as possible portray their on-the-ground experience without falling into complete patriotic pantomime. (Effectively your words, and in film review terms I agree with most of what you write if we take Bay’s efforts out of context.) There’s a long-form interview with Bay in Rolling Stone you ought to read to get a bit of extra background.

    But the film is important because it provides a greater sense of what happened. Reporting at the time was broad but scant on detail. ‘There was a bit of an attack. A few guys died while waiting for extra support. Things quietened down the day after.’ Even if you’ve only read Zuckoff’s book you realise that wasn’t remotely accurate and that the White House’s response was pretty tawdry. (See Camille Paglia’s piece in Salon Magazine as well – ‘It remains baffling…..’, Aug 2013)

    In terms of the political climate in the US, and the kind of content free movie Bay normally makes – it’s a minor miracle it got made. I know it’ll grate but I paid to see it four times and bought the DVD. There are plenty of hoo-rah bits I also had to look past but for once it was reassuring to watch my values being represented rather than the usual Hollywood/Democrats model.

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