On September 11th 2012, an attack on a temporary consulate in Benghazi killed the US Ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens (Matt Letscher). Later that night, a secret CIA compound one mile away was laid siege to, leaving six ex-military officers to protect the base and those within it.
Based on a true story, this is only the third such tale told by Michael Bay after Pearl Harbour and Pain & Gain. The trouble is that although there is surely a story to be told here, the film descends into a gratuitous bloody fire fight for most of its running time, with little back story and even fewer fleshed out characters.
The cast is led by John Krasinski, who does what he can with the little he is given, but comes out the best since he is given a chance to emote for a moment toward the end of the film. It is clear that Krasinski wanted to try something other than the lovable goofball roles he has become famous for, and while there can be little doubt that the actor can play drama, this was not the film for him to show off his range. The rest of the cast – James Badge Dale, David Costabile, Pablo Schreiber, David Denman, Dominic Fumusa and Max Martini – fare less well, and are watered down to thin one dimensional characters that are more video game characters than those of a film.
Chuck Hogan’s screenplay – based on the book “13 Hours” by Mitchell Zuckoff – is almost criminally underwritten, with subtitles at the start of the film giving the audience the smallest amount of back story needed for the film to function, and little else being given throughout. The characters are drawn incredibly thinly – even for a Michael Bay film – with the only attempt at making them relatable coming from their consistent talking about their children and, in one particular moment, how they have needed to visit the bathroom since before the siege began.
Michael Bay carries on the loud, bright and manic style of filmmaking that he has cultivated through the Transformers franchise. Like the robots in disguise, it is hard to tell who is who and which side of the fight they are on – although this is continually pointed out to the audience, so it seems like a plot point. The film is incredibly poorly paced, with almost an hour of the 144 minute running time elapsing before the action begins, and the fire fight itself seeming more like a videogame than one in which human lives were on the line. There are no characters to root for so in the end, the audience is left emotionally checked out.
In all, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi could have been an interesting thriller about an attack sparked by events across the world, but as it stands it is a gratuitous and emotionally manipulative film, lacking characters, a coherent plot and someone to root for.