Director: Michael Bay
On the night of September 11, 2012, the diplomatic compound of the United States in Benghazi, Libya, and later the nearby CIA annex, were attacked. Multiple people died, among them four Americans. The story leading up to the attacks is long, complicated and still not completely resolved. “13 Hours” attempts to recount the events of the assault, mainly from the point of view of the CIA security team.
One positive thing can be said about this film: it doesn’t attempt to tone down or glamourize the violence and horror of its battle scenes. However, that’s about it. The rest of the film is neither as satisfactory as a simple action movie, nor in any way an adequate depiction of the Benghazi attack.
Michael Bay, known for movies such as Transformers 1-4, Armageddon and Bad Boys, takes on some heavier material with this; and let’s be honest, simply by restricting explosions and car chases to a minimum he is already exceeding all expectations (there are still plenty of explosions). Nevertheless, he manages to meet all the other criteria of a typical Michael Bay movie within the first twenty minutes. Oversaturated colours, check; two-dimensional characters (almost caricatures), check; an exorbitant amount of close-up shots of men’s sweaty, grubby faces mid-battle, check – and of course, a single female character (Alexia Barlier as a CIA officer) who’s only purpose is to make the men look good.
Libyan hostiles, allies and civilians alike are shown wounded and dying in painful, cartoonish ways. They are all faceless, characterless and without motive. They barely ever get to talk, and their dialogues are either not translated or of no consequence. The Libyan translator (Peyman Moaadi) that puts his life on the line with the rest of the team – despite having no weapon training or military background – is treated by the script as comic relief. Libyan lives are being repeatedly destroyed, but this is simply a backdrop to a story about American valor and bravery. Who chose to attack the embassy and why? This movie doesn’t bother telling us because it’s just not considered important. Benghazi is a scene; a location for an action movie that could have happened anywhere. The attackers are just meaningless obstacles for the protagonists to overcome. Inconveniently, they all look and sound the same, have identical beards, pretty wives and cute children back home, and lots of more-or-less authentic sounding banter. It’s hard to care about characters you can’t tell apart, so when, inevitably, people start getting hurt, confusion outweighs sympathy.
This is a long movie (although not 13 hours long). By the end, you will have learned absolutely nothing about the Benghazi attack. It is perhaps telling that this was a movie specifically marketed to conservative audiences; its main selling point being patriotism. But even those won over by copious shots of the American flag (riddled by bullets, floating on the water, or tattooed on a soldier’s torso) and a distinctly pro-military, anti-liberal sentiment, must realize that it is simply not a very good movie. Flat characters, tedious pacing and a script completely devoid of intelligence will do that to you.
It’s a waste of a story that could have been told by someone capable of self-awareness, and of subtlety. Instead, it was told by Michael Bay.
Text: Elinor Tessin