We love to bash Michael Bay. “His movies are duuumb!” But Bay’s “bad” movies (like “Bad Boys”) bag beaucoup box-office bucks.
There’s a reason for that. Bay’s not stupid. Bay went to Wesleyan, Wesleyan’s like a smaller Yale, so Bay’s smarter than pretty much anyone who bashes him. He can wax astoundingly, articulately, artistic about his craft.
Why defend him? I’m not really, I just happened to enjoy the heck out of the first “Transformers” and the first “Bad Boys.” I have junvenile tastes, what can I say? Actually I have a whole range of tastes. I better, for this job. But the rest of Bay’s catalogue I enjoyed not so much. But I did enjoy this Benghazi movie. It’s a good war movie. The only reason it didn’t do well, immediately, at the box office, is because the title’s too obscure.
Instead of “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” it should have been titled, “Six U.S. Ex-spec-ops Warriors Versus 600 pre-ISIS Banditos.” Well maybe not. But you get the idea. It might have had more of a chance.
This is a slight change-up for Bay. Bay movies are about ‘splosions. The more the merrier, the bigger the better—because Bay’s audience is boys. Period. But Bay’s ‘splosions in “Benghazi” have more meaning, because like his “Pearl Harbor,” they’re wartime ‘splosions.
“Benghazi’s” based on a true story about the 6 hired-gun, ex-spec op, private security operators (made up of ex-SEALS, Marines, and Rangers) who guarded a clandestine CIA headquarters situated near the Benghazi embassy. Vastly outnumbered by Libyan militiamen, they tried to save U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens from attacks on Sept. 11, 2012.
Why didn’t the military get involved? That’s a big question. But that’s not what Bay wants to talk about; that would not really be a topic for a Bay movie. Not enough ‘splosions in that version.
So Jack Silva (John Krasinski) leaves his family to go bring home the bacon, doing his violent job that his wife’s not so happy about. He lands in bullet-pock-marked Benghazi airport, gets picked up by old friend and fellow ex-SEAL Tyrone “Rone” Woods (James Badge Dale). There’s razor-wire everywhere, dead airplanes, and the usual middle-eastern forest of AK-47s, along with an immediate, hostile checkpoint by Libyan militia. Tensions are running high.
The CIA establishes its dominant pecking-order status, and the security warriors check the ambassador’s house, declaring it a security disaster/deathtrap, in desperate need of marine checkpoints, more walls, etc.
Eventually, of course, the house as well as the CIA compound get overrun by baddies, and then it’s ‘splosion-city, literally. Quite exciting fire fights. Best set-piece: special forces escaping point-blank gunfire in a bullet-proof glassed car, rolling with one tire blazing.
Spies Versus Warriors
CIA station chief Bob (David Costabile) is a pudgy, snooty, brow-beating weasel-boss to the security detail, who enjoys telling these tough guys how the CIA staff are all Harvard-educated, brilliant, relevant individuals, while they, the alpha-dogs, are the easily-replaced “hired help.” The alphas know that’s one of the things Bob enjoys most about his job—that he gets to boss alphas around.
But of course, it’s these six warriors who are the stars in this show. Like the back-stories so popular now that prepare us to root for NFL and Olympic athletes, we get a little back-story on the security detail. Like all hard men involved in risky occupations, military, S.W.A.T., extreme sports, pilots, etc., they put their necks on the line for little pay and no thanks.
Yes, you have to be an adrenaline junkie to excel at this kind of work. Yes, you must like ‘splosions. And yes, that’s why Michael Bay likes these men.
It’s All About Casting
Bay put together a great cast. John Krasinski (“The Office”) and James Dale Badge (“24”) run the show. Who knew ripped, bearded, normally mild-mannered Krasinski had this role in his range?
The cast chemistry is the whole movie. You feel these guys feeling their roles. They own spec-ops bearded badness. If you like this sort of thing, you just want go hang around this level of cool-under-fire, smack-talking, committed bad-(expletive-omitted)-ery, and their acts of valor.
Is the dialogue scintillating? Let’s see … the most satisfying line of dialogue in the movie is when the proverbial excrement hits the fan, and Bob starts ordering everyone around and Rone says, “Nuh-uh. You don’t give orders. You’re taking them. You’re in my world now.” That’s very scintillating, in my book, for this movie.
What else? “Boon” (David Denman), in a bit of a cliché nod to the now legend-in-their-own-time fact that special forces warriors can be very deep, ex-philosophy major-type searchers, reads a Joseph Campbell “The Power of Myth” passage: “All the gods, all the devils, all the heavens—are in you.” That’s also very scintillating, in my book, for this movie.
Is the camera work fantastically artistic? Will it be lauded by film professors as an exquisite example of filmmaking to film-school classes? No. Will there be scuffed DVD’s of it in Navy SEAL, Delta Force, and Marine lockers? Youbetchabygolly yes.
’13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’
Director: Michael Bay
Cast: John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Pablo Schreiber, David Costabile
Running Time: 2 hours, 24 minutes
Release Date: Jan. 15
Rated 3.5 stars out of 5