Sunday, January 17, 2016

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

It bothers me that there's a comma missing after "wrong."As I type out this next statement it seems so so so so very wrong, but after quickly refreshing my memory of Michael Bay's filmography, I've come to the realization that I actually enjoy most of his movies. Which is crazy, because on that same list of titles is one of my most-hated films of all time: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. But the fact remains that you can usually count on Bay for a good time at the theater, assuming you can handle lots of testosterone, boobs and explosions. (Semi-relevant side note: my friend was at the Playboy Mansion a few years ago for work (really!) and he texted me that Michael Bay was there. My response? "OF COURSE HE IS.")

Bay's taken on real events before with Pearl Harbor and Pain & Gain, both of which were critically despised (though for the record I kinda loved the latter). So I can't say my hopes were high for 13 Hours. Then there's the fact that most of what's been in the news more recently about the Benghazi tragedy did not exactly sound like movie material: emails, email servers, Hillary Clinton's emails and email servers, marathon Congressional hearings... blah blah blah... zzzzzz. I realize this is shameful and that I am living up (down) to the overall fairly accurate stereotype of an ignorant American, but I feel it's important to be honest that I didn't know a heck of a lot about what actually happened in Benghazi when I went into this movie.

But Bay knows his audience, and so he's got you, fellow fools. He lays it all out at the beginning, quickly explaining where Benghazi is, what was going on there in 2012, and why that context matters. Then we meet some of the people who were working at both the United States' diplomatic compound and the secret CIA annex about a mile down the road. At that annex was a team of six men who all had hardcore military backgrounds and were in Benghazi as CIA security contractors; the screenplay by Chuck Hogan was based on Mitchell Zuckoff's book, which he wrote alongside the five surviving members of that team.

As impossible as this may be to believe, 13 Hours isn't a political film. I was dreading that it would be, and was therefore pleasantly surprised that it instead focused almost solely on the Americans who were forced to defend themselves and each other when Islamic militants attacked both the compound and the annex. (In retrospect this focus makes sense, given the screenplay's source material).

Let's lighten things up: Pornstache from OITNB and both Jim AND Roy from The Office?!?
A little time was spent trying to differentiate the six beefy members of the security team upfront, with the most time given to Jack (John Krasinski) and Rone (James Badge Dale), who found themselves in a life-and-death situation on the streets of Benghazi just minutes after Rone picked Jack up from the airport—an ominous prelude to what was to come.

When the attack sequences start—and then do not let up for a large chunk of the 144-minute running time—it is often hard to understand exactly what's going on. But I think that was the point. We might be seeing firefights from above, from street level, through windows or from the security team's night-vision goggles, but one thing's clear: it was an all-out shitshow, with the CIA team unable to tell which locals might be on their side versus who might be about to shoot them in the back at any second.

While some of the dialogue in the film is downright embarrassing, I'd still argue that I'm glad it was Michael Bay, of all directors, who made this movie. He kept it about the people directly involved, was respectful to those who lost their lives, and did the right thing by using the Hero Worship filter to depict the actions of a group of people who were profoundly brave and selfless in the face of near-certain death.

But make no mistake: you will not—or at least you should not—leave the theater wanting to pump your fist and holler, "MURICA!!!" You might be, as I was, confused and saddened and angry. And then perhaps you'll also do what I do after seeing any good movie that's "based on true events": get home, smack yourself upside the head and then spend a little time educating yourself on the full story.

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