13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016) ⭐⭐⭐

“I thought it was gonna be a peaceful night”

 

Directed by Michael Bay

 

Based on a True Story, 13 Hours is a horrific recount of one of the worst terrorists attack in recent memory. Its a brutal, relentless film that pays tribute to the soldiers who held the line, and it is a surprisingly mature, somber entry in Michael Bay’s filmography.

Yes, THAT Michael Bay.

Say what you will about his Transformers movies, but here he shows remarkable restrain in his usual caveats. Gone are the silly dick jokes and click bait hot girls. What little humor remains here is the much appreciated banter between the soldiers that lend humanity to the whole bloody night.

And what a night it is.

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13 Hours takes you into the front lines where a group of soldiers holed up in Benghazi desperately try to protect an American ambassador. With unclear instructions, no go ahead and no aid available, six men did everything they could to hold the line and save lives.

It starts off simple enough. We see the ins and outs of the security detail and get some light backstory. Then the attack hits from nowhere, and from there on out its a white knuckled battle for survival as the situation deescalates into a downward spiral. This is easily Bay’s best work in years, as he racks up the tension and never lets up, detailing how much of a mess the entire event was.

Told purely from the soldiers perspective, we feel as boxed into the situation as them. The confusion, and the lack of aid is primarily what these men faced. Amidst the chaos of urban warfare, they had no luxury to debate politics, and the political decisions behind the lack of American support is another story entirely. By removing those elements, Bay has created a humane tribute to their sacrifice. One free of finger pointing that plagues so many “True Story” retellings of recent times.

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So its a shame that we barely get to know these men. The movie runs at 144 minutes, and i wish more of that time was spent on character development, and a little less on the combat. Thankfully the acting is uniformly solid which helps give some much need personality. But after a certain point, the numerous intense battles can get a little too mind numbing, even if that is the point. Michael Bay’s signature explosions and carnage are in full effect here, but at least this time it is thematically relevant.

However what surprised me the most was how little patriotism was forced in. There are no “hoorah” speeches of fighting for country or honor. No over the top sacrifices that glorify the violence. No thank you parades. No glorification of war, or anyone individual for that matter.

In the end, these were men who simply fought to go home.

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