13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi Movie Review
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is entertaining. As long as no one talks. The new war/action film, about the controversial Battle of Benghazi in which an American ambassador was killed in 2012, may be Michael Bay’s most grounded film to date, but shoddy writing and dialogue keep it from being anything more than passable hoorah fare.
If you go in with the right expectations--that yes, Michael Bay is no Steven Spielberg and yes, he’s prone to storytelling techniques that can quickly veer into cheeseville--13 Hours is a perfectly fine action film. The battle scenes, while not groundbreaking, are thrilling enough, and once shit hits the fan, Bay maintains a high level of tension until the climax.
Those expecting 13 Hours to be politically charged may be disappointed. While the movie does speak to a lack of communication and coordination from the State Department--something that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has had to defend--it is very much a boots-on-the-ground action-thriller, sort of like a less-good Black Hawk Down. Bay actually does a good job of holding back on over-the-top patriotism for the most part.
Well, at least until he doesn’t.
The movie’s biggest failing is its screenplay, which forces its actors to engage in awkward and sometimes cheesy dialogue. The dialogue isn’t always terrible, but when guns aren’t blazing and Bay attempts to make his characters more three dimensional than they actually are, 13 Hours gets hammy fast. A little bit of overzealous American pride doesn’t bug me--and when done right it can be a lot of fun--but for as much restraint as Bay shows for much of the movie, he completely loses it in the last half hour. The dialogue gets worse, everything gets clunkier and Bay suddenly appears to be going through the motions, reverting to bad habits. A closing shot of an American flag encourages more eye rolling than a sense of pride.
Having met three of the men who are portrayed in the movie, 13 Hours does a decent job of depicting them and their endless banter--but unfortunately none of the characters resonate on an emotional level. It’s hard to tell whether the fault lies with the actors or the screenplay or some combination of the two, but rarely do any of their interactions feel real or organic. And some characters, like CIA regional head Bob (David Costabile), are so one-dimensional they’re downright painful to watch.
We should commend Michael Bay for trying to do something different, something a little more serious. 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi looks solid and features good action scenes, though visuals and action have never been Bay’s problem. Sadly, the writing just isn’t up to par, which keeps this movie from being anything more than a serviceably entertaining action flick.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.