Director: Michael Bay
Cast: James Badge Dale, John Krasinski, Max Martini and David Costabile
Running Time: 144 minutes
Release Date: January 29th
Michael Bay has said that 13 Hours is not a political movie. In his defence, he probably just saw the Battle of Benghazi as a plum opportunity to dish out his incoherent, macho bullshit wrapped in the stars and stripes one more time. He probably saw the truckload of cash American Sniper hauled in and figured he’d grab himself a chunk too. He probably thinks he made a movie about the bravery of the private contractors who both tried to rescue a U.S. ambassador and defended a CIA outpost in Benghazi on September 11th 2012. But considering it’s still an active stick that Republicans try and shove in the spokes of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, it by its very nature can’t help but be political. So what does film’s most bombastic and bloviated director retelling of your recent military history look like? Well, to quote hip-hop’s premier artist Robert Goulet, “you wouldn’t hire a clown to fix a leak in the john.”
Bay focuses on six private contractors working as security for the CIA, who have kept a clandestine outpost long after everyone else has left Benghazi. A mile up the road, a US ambassador is staying at a diplomatic compound that is grossly understaffed. After delivering a speech about American’s intentions to aid Libya, the compound is attacked and overrun, before the CIA Annex itself becomes a target, setting up a Rio Bravo siege scenario. He’s clearly in love with this collection of beefed-up jocks who he portrays as both the strongest and smartest in the room. The villain becomes the milquetoast CIA chief, a pencil-pusher, played by Breaking Bad‘s David Costabile, who comes across as wildly incompetent and almost single-handedly responsible for all the casualties.
13 Hours’ problems are plentiful. It is an ugly propaganda piece that while trying to lionise American patriotism becomes incredibly jingoistic and Islamophobic. Bay makes almost no effort to make any Libyans anything but mindless drones shuffling in hordes towards the Annex. He deliberately makes the link between religion and violence, littering one scene of prayer with AK-47s and lingers long on the flag of Ansar al-Sharia, which shares the same Black Standard design of ISIS. A major element of the conflict was the CIA not knowing who were the attackers and who were the 17th Brigade Martyrs, a local militia working with the Americans. It’s there to elevate tension, but Bay never shows the Martyrs actively aiding the Americans, and even has one contractor shout how “they’re all bad guys, until they’re not.”
Its leads are largely unlikeable and barely written, all bearded grunts made from the same jock mould. They have tired conversations about their nagging wives — “the girls don’t need a true house, they need you” is an actual line — and how they hope their daughters don’t become whores. They work out, play Call of Duty and recite lines from Tropic Thunder. Bay and screenwriter Chuck Hogan try to make you care by attaching kids to them who they talk with over Skype. But they’re bullies, particularly to an interpreter they goad into entering a combat zone while laughing about how he’ll probably die. They undermine the CIA staffers, particularly a female undercover agent who is half-French, which Bay uses as shorthand for stuck-up bitch.
Bay’s handling of the action is just as incoherent as his grasp on fact. The conflict played out over only two locations but the geography is never established, which, along with carbon copy contractors, makes it nigh on impossible to have any idea who’s what and who’s where. It appropriates most of its imagery from first-person shooters and, with humdingers like “warriors aren’t trained to retire,” their dialogue too.
13 Hours is a history movie that has no interest in historical accuracy. It is a story about heroism with morally ambiguous heroes. It is a glance into the looking glass of Donald Trump’s America.