It’s 2012 and Benghazi has been labelled as one of the most dangerous places on earth. Despite this, a temporary U.S. embassy remains open after the arrival of an American ambassador, with a CIA outpost known as ‘The Annex’ only a mile away. The outpost is protected by a group of private military contractors, hired to keep the building safe and escort the CIA staff on operations. The arrival of the American Ambassador to Libya stirs tensions in the area, and the CIA and the soldiers protecting them must remain on high alert as local rebels begin to descend on the two bases.
Michael Bay makes a rare trip outside of the Transformers franchise with 13 Hours, a film based on events that transpired in Benghazi in 2012. Jack Silva (John Krasinski) is returning to the field of private military contracting, and he is welcomed back by old friend Tyrone ‘Rone’ Woods (James Badge Dale). Already present in Libya are the rest of the military detail which includes Kris ‘Tanto’ Paranto (Pablo Schrieber), Dave ‘Boon’ Benton (David Denman), John ‘Tig’ Tiegan (Dominic Fumusa) and Mark ‘Oz’ Geist (Max Martini). The group of soldiers spend the majority of their time escorting CIA personnel throughout a ravaged Libyan landscape still suffering from revolution and war. The arrival of an ambassador from America makes their work a little more complicated, with local media reporting his presence he soon becomes a target for rebel militia still present in the city. As night falls on the anniversary of the September 11th attacks, the temporary compound the ambassador is staying it is assaulted. In an effort to rescue the ambassador, Rone and his team become targets, as does their base ‘The Annex’. Due to the secret nature of the site, support is limited, leaving the soldiers to fend off the attackers and protect the base until help arrives, if it arrives.
Coming off the back of Transformers: Age of Extinction (which lets be honest, was decent) Michael Bay gets 13 Hours off to a shaky start. As Jack Silva lands in Libya and is taken to ‘The Annex’ we are subject to trademark quick cuts and choppy editing that speeds through the introduction of the film, given us a crash course in what is happening in Benghazi. It’s like a kid fast forwarding to the action scenes at home, skipping exposition for the big pay off. However due to the surprising length of the film it doesn’t last too long in the memory, and once Silva meets his fellow military colleagues and we are introduced to the rest of the team, the film begins to settle into its groove. Then after a couple of escort missions, we are thrust into primary conflict that the film bases it’s events on.
On a whole 13 Hours is a straightforward war film, choosing to focus primarily on the conflict that it is based on, as it skirts around the edges of the more controversial elements related to the story. To be honest the film works just fine like that. Though the handling of the operation, and lack of support for those stuck in Benghazi are depicted negatively with more than a few comments and hints, it’s clear the intention was to give the time and focus to those responsible for saving lives that day. Sure the film could have attempted to get political, and discuss in more depth the reaction to the attack back in the United States, but Michael Bay doesn’t make films like that. As a result we get an action packed account of the warfare that took place on September 11th 2012 in Benghazi, which to be honest considering circumstances of those involved, is more than enough to fuel a war film.
As a director Michael Bay can be just like Jekyll and Hyde, he can make shots look great as the bullets are flying then out of nowhere you’ll get some random unnecessary shot. For example, whilst in the throes of action the camera changes to an aerial shot from a UAV drone for a split second. It’s a simple case of adding stuff because they could, not because they should. This is just one example, there are many other little bits and pieces which just feel like they’re in for the sake of it rather than it adding anything to the experience. It’s an inconsistency which has haunted his bigger budget affairs, thankfully it’s not as prevalent here, but is noticeable. One thing Bay is more consistent at is comradery and chemistry of his performers. When he has a couple or group of people together they always gel well, regardless of how unusual the partnership is. Just look at Nicolas Cage and Sean Connery in The Rock, he just makes it work and it’s the same here. The small jokes and jibes amongst the team put a smile on your face amidst the chaos going on, and they’re is an authenticity to their teamwork. James Badge Dale shines the brightest, but the others aren’t far behind.
If you looking for a war film that is straight up modern warfare then 13 Hours should tick all the right boxes. It’s typical Michael Bay with slow motion and explosions but it’s more of a return to his earlier form than something like the abysmal Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. If you’ve seen Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor you’ll know what your in for here, it’s just a lot glossier.