Clearly a passion project for director Michael Bay, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is a far-more restrained feature from the usually excessive filmmaker who (mostly) avoids the political side of things to deliver a factually-based action film. Surprisingly streamlined despite its overblown 144 minute running time, the film is the most disciplined we’ve seen Bay in the last decade, proving that outside of the Transformers franchise, and when he isn’t given too much money to throw around, he’s quite a capable genre director.
The story itself is quite simple, and not without its post-film release controversy, as it depicts the six American security contractors in the Libyan city of Benghazi – named one of the most dangerous places in the world – as they fought to defend an American diplomatic compound against a terrorist attack on the eleventh anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Despite its basis in truth, Bay has constructed a rather straightforward action film, which will no doubt align itself nicely with a general broad audience. The events that take place here speak for themselves with screenwriter Chuck Hogan (best known for his author work on The Strain, a vampiric trilogy co-written with Guillermo del Toro) only ever coming close to making any kind of statement through some of his depictions of the CIA operatives who ultimately need the help of the sextet they initially treat as brainless meatheads.
As for the six soldiers, the actors cast are sadly interchangeable with only John Krasinski‘s former Navy SEAL Jack Da Silva and James Badge Dale’s Tyrone “Rone” Woods standing out from the pack. Krasinki is wholly convincing in a role unlike anything we’ve seen him in before, his physique considerably pumped up and his usual likeability still on hand, though neatly mixed with a quiet intensity that gets a fine display in an early set-piece where he and Woods are involved in an armed stand-off. Dale, finally earning top billing after years of playing support in such films as The Grey, World War Z and The Lone Ranger, effortlessly slips into the leader role here, his bulk-build a similarly impressive change for the usually slender actor. The remaining quartet – Oz (Max Martini), Tig (Dominic Fumusa), Tanto (Pablo Schreiber) and Boon (David Denman) – only get fleeting moments of character development between them but the comradery expressed consistently throughout assists in the audience caring about these characters, even if you can’t pick them apart.
Whilst Bay critics will no doubt find an endless stream of reasons to dislike 13 Hours…, it’s actually a rather competently made military action film that proves he’s a far more interesting director than given credit for when he’s limited by his resources. It’s far from becoming a classic of the genre but as far as testosterone-fuelled excursions go, you can do a whole lot worse than this.
Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is in cinemas today.