Film Review: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

posted at 5:31 pm on January 16, 2016 by C.T. Rex

Andrew Breitbart famously said “politics is downstream of culture”, which is the succinct answer to the not infrequent questions authors like myself get about why we’re taking up space on political news sites like Hot Air with posts about things like movies and video games. Essentially, the stories we share with each other control the way we think about almost everything, and these are some of the most powerful storytelling tools available to us.  What people “know” about something can be forever changed after just a couple hours in the theater, and that is why it’s so important to both share those experiences and learn to create them by watching the masters at work.

Until this weekend, the story of the 2012 attack on our consulate in Benghazi has been almost exclusively in the hands of the Obama Administration (and the media, but I repeat myself), who have spun a yarn about faulty intelligence leading them to believe a Youtube video caused a spontaneous protest that turned violent and could not have been prevented or mitigated.  13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi now puts that story in the hands of Michael Bay.

Like most people familiar with Bay’s work, when I first saw his name in that trailer I snarked about his ability to tackle such a controversial event in recent history.  Not only has every film he’s done since Transformers become dumber and less coherent, but I remember sitting through the interminably painful romance that ate up the majority of Pearl Harbor‘s running time. The best I thought we could hope for here was a more competent version of Act of Valor, which conservatives loved, liberals loathed, and I thought just sucked in general.

Much to my surprise, Bay has instead delivered a poignant and harrowing view of the events of September 11, 2012 from the perspective of the people who were there in Benghazi as it unfolded.  In fact, 13 Hours is so well constructed that had it not been for some of the usual shots and frenetic editing that distinctly mark the film as one of Bay’s, I would believe he let someone else direct it for him.

However, although those Bay-isms do pop up here and there, most of the things that bother people about his films are either gone or at the very least heavily subdued compared to his movies of late.  Instead of jumping right into an explosion fest, Bay starts us off with a brief recap of how we got into Libya in the first place, followed by about an hour of setting the stage for what’s to come that starts with us meeting our team of ex-soldiers contracted to protect the CIA annex.  They’re a frustrated and often bored bunch stuck in a base protecting people who don’t seem to appreciate what they do, surrounded by potential threats, and constantly at odds with a boss who seems to consider them more of a liability than anything else.

That boss is the CIA station chief at the annex played by David Costabile, not President Obama, Hillary Clinton, or some kind of caricature of either as you might expect.  Other than a snippet of one of Obama’s speeches, they are completely absent from the film, and by leaving them out, Bay and screenwriter Chuck Hogan wisely avoid having the story they are telling sidetracked by political concerns.  Instead they are able to hammer home the horrible truths about Benghazi that have thus far been written off as Republican political pandering.

We are shown a woefully unfortified consulate whose defense is left almost entirely in the hands of unreliable Libyan allies.  It is not overrun by a protest that got out of hand, and there is pointed dialog noting that fact later in the movie.  Rather it is attacked by Islamic militants who spend days casing both it and the CIA annex before they execute a series of clearly coordinated and planned assaults.  And more infuriating than anything else, we watch as calls for backup continue to go unheeded for hours, with fighter jets sitting unmanned on the tarmac as the Americans desperately fight to repel waves of well armed terrorists.

Even our heroes are explicitly and repeatedly told to “stand down” despite the frantic pleas from the Consulate that “if you don’t come, we’re going to f*cking die!”

Bound by their conscience, these valiant men defy their orders and go anyway, and that’s when the movie really gets going.  From then on it’s a tense, gripping affair that left me quietly seething in anger watching these guys get hung out to dry by a government that couldn’t or wouldn’t send help.  Even Bay’s hyper-edited shaky cam, which is somewhat annoying during that first hour of setup, is used to great effect here, reinforcing the feeling of disorientation and uncertainty these guys clearly have to work through.  For once not being able to tell who is whom works in the movie’s favor because neither could they at times.

It’s not all action either. There are appropriate moments of unsettling calm, and since it’s Bay, there are jokes peppered throughout, but not of the typical childish variety we normally see from him.  We get more of a gallows humor the guys use to break the tension for themselves as much as it does for us, and though the primary focus is on the pseudonymous Jack Silva played by John Krasinski, and Tyrone Woods played by James Badge Dale, 13 Hours has a great ensemble cast making it all work together.

I also have to give props to Lorne Balfe for creating a score that’s reminiscent of the kind of thing Hans Zimmer used to do before Christopher Nolan introduced him to that “BWAAAAH” noise.  It really helped sell every moment of this film.

So believe it or not, Michael Bay did it.  He not only created a movie with the potential to change how people view the events of that night in Benghazi, but one that’s a legitimately good film in its own right. So 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi  is a 5 on Ed Morrissey’s HotAir scale:

  • 5 – Full price ticket
  • 4 – Matinee only
  • 3 – Wait for Blu-Ray/DVD/PPV rental or purchase
  • 2 – Watch it when it hits Netflix/cable
  • 1 – Avoid at all costs

It’s a powerful and compelling look at an important moment in recent history that’s absolutely worth a couple hours in a theater to know more about the unquestionable heroism displayed by men who were trapped in a hellish situation that was not only foreseeable, but entirely preventable.

I would also note that it earns its R rating for not shying away from showing the blood and guts at the end, so that’s something to be aware of it makes you squeamish.

13 Hours is rated R for strong combat violence throughout, bloody images, and language.

For more of what I think about entertainment and politics, follow me on Twitter @crankytrex or check out my other writing at buzzpo.com.


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Comment pages: 1 2

Saw it. It was well done.

KyserS on January 17, 2016 at 12:56 PM

I’m going to see it in another hour.

claudius on January 17, 2016 at 1:14 PM

The title is a bit misleading…they were actually mercenaries when this went down.

That being said, they were still brave Americans screwed over by our own government.

Also, I wonder if they were still in uniform if the Gov. would have abandoned them? I rather doubt it.

Dr. ZhivBlago on January 16, 2016 at 6:14 PM

Just to correct a misconception, they were not mercenaries. They were contract employees of the CIA assigned to GRS. GRS includes both staff and contract CIA officers. The U.S. Government not only abandoned them, they abandoned all the other Agency employees at the CIA Annex. A former CIA Director and former SecDef still have a lot to answer for (along with Hillary), plus the generals and senior staff that allowed this to happen.

Enigma on January 17, 2016 at 1:19 PM

I’ll go see it. nobody laid out the facts like Sophie did though.
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wolly4321 on January 16, 2016 at 6:30 PM
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Dittos…
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listens2glenn on January 16, 2016 at 10:36 PM

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Thank you for the link L2G, and I’ll add my “Dittos” as well.
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Iamaluckyone on January 17, 2016 at 8:44 AM

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You’re very welcome … that’s one link that should be broadcast EVERYWHERE it can be.

listens2glenn on January 17, 2016 at 1:20 PM

Go to see 13 Hours this weekend! It would be beyond depressing if Ice Cube’s Ride Along 2 out-ranked a really important movie like 13 Hours in the opening weekend stats.

wren on January 16, 2016 at 7:56 PM

FYI 13 hours is in 4th place this weekend so far with $16M behind Ride along 2 ($34M), the Revenant ($29M), and the Force Awakens ($25M)

http://www.boxofficemojo.com/weekend/chart/

Tlaloc on January 17, 2016 at 2:35 PM

Tlaloc on January 17, 2016 at 2:35 PM

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There you have it, wren . . . . . “13 Hours” just ain’t pop-culture enough, for today’s movie goers.

Of course, word could get around, and it might eventually surpass the others, in total ticket sales.

listens2glenn on January 17, 2016 at 2:48 PM

The Obama Administration today issued an executive order requiring a major Hollywood studio to make a movie that will counter and dispel the right-wing propaganda of “13 Hours.”

To be called “Truth Squad,” the movie will focus on the work of Obama Administration officials who heroically risked their lives accessing IRS and NSA files to uncover the secret pasts of Michael Bay, John Krasinski, and the other cast and crew members involved in the making of “13 Hours.”

“‘Truth Squad’ promises to leave no stone unturned in exposing what really happened at Michael Bay’s storyboarding sessions,” said one Obama Administration official.

“Yes, that’s right. Michael Bay storyboarded his writers to break them and twist their normally reliably leftist political views in service to his piece of right-wing propaganda crap,” the official added.

According to the official, “Truth Squad” is set to reveal — among other shock-inducers — that Michael Bay once took candy from a baby and that John Krasinski’s marriage license to actress Emily Blunt is void because it is made out to an openly opposite-sex couple.

“We believe that audiences will flock to ‘Truth Squad,’ even though we anticipate it being able to open in only three theaters across the U.S.,” said the Obama Administration official.

“When audiences see ‘Truth Squad,’ the scales will fall from their eyes and they will no longer believe the message of ’13 Hours,’” he continued.

“’13 Hours is nothing but a pack of lies. There isn’t even a place called Benghazi. They totally made everything up. It sickens me that the American people are being so badly misled by this renegade movie maker and his film that deserves to only be seen on the Internet.

“There is a clear and present danger that ’13 Hours’ will foment spontaneous protests that lead to attacks on our safe houses in Virginia’s most exclusive gated communities. We believe ‘Truth Squad’ will rescue us.”

FlameWarrior on January 17, 2016 at 2:53 PM

There you have it, wren . . . . . “13 Hours” just ain’t pop-culture enough, for today’s movie goers.

Of course, word could get around, and it might eventually surpass the others, in total ticket sales.

listens2glenn on January 17, 2016 at 2:48 PM

Yeah, I checked the link on Drudge this morning, saw that 13 Hours was in 4th place and groaned.

Coming in behind Star Wars, I could understand. But behind Ride Along 2?!?!?!?!? The American people have sunk to a new low!!!

But so far the box office figures are just estimates, so the American people still have time to redeem themselves. And with MLK Day tomorrow, there will be 4 days included in this weekend’s movie stats (Fri, Sat, Sun, Mon)

Show the heroes who lived through those 13 Hours that the American people really do care about them and their story. Go to see 13 Hours today or tomorrow! And bring friends, particularly liberal ones!

In the meantime, if you see the movie this weekend, please let us all know how full your theater was.

wren on January 17, 2016 at 3:14 PM

You’re very welcome … that’s one link that should be broadcast EVERYWHERE it can be.

listens2glenn on January 17, 2016 at 1:20 PM

That link contains the best timeline I have seen of the whole Benghazi fiasco! Thank you Sophie!

Hillary & Obama are looking worse & worse with every new detail we learn about Benghazi!

wren on January 17, 2016 at 3:27 PM

There you have it, wren . . . . . “13 Hours” just ain’t pop-culture enough, for today’s movie goers.

Of course, word could get around, and it might eventually surpass the others, in total ticket sales.

listens2glenn on January 17, 2016 at 2:48 PM

4th place isn’t horrible. It’s no “Atlas Shrugged” for instance.

Tlaloc on January 17, 2016 at 3:28 PM

Of course, word could get around, and it might eventually surpass the others, in total ticket sales.

listens2glenn on January 17, 2016 at 2:48 PM

I REALLY doubt it has any chance of passing Star Wars. Best you could hop[e for would be a dynamic like titanic where instead of a spike followed by a quick asymptotic decline you get a long tail of low levels of activity (probably in rural theaters in red counties). Of course then you are sort of preaching to the choir but if it makes money then people are more likely to try conservative films again.

Reviews have been mixed.

Tlaloc on January 17, 2016 at 3:32 PM

4th place isn’t horrible. It’s no “Atlas Shrugged” for instance.

Tlaloc on January 17, 2016 at 3:28 PM

that said the budget was apparently ~$50M and rule of thumb is that a movie needs to make twice it’s production cost to break even (due to the ticket price being split with the movie theaters themselves) so if it makes less than $100M total (worldwide) it’s almost certainly a loss, particularly when you add in advertising and promotion costs which usually aren’t included in the production cost. Seems like in general studios try to break even on opening weekend which it seems is pretty unlikely for 13 hours.

Looking at Box Office Mojo either the film is only being released domestically or the numbers for foreign markets is unavailable. Either way though it seems likely this is a flim that will be very dependent on the domestic market to make money, similar to American Sniper (64% domestic, 36% foreign). For comparison Transformers (to pick another michael bay movie) made 55% of it’s money overseas.

Tlaloc on January 17, 2016 at 3:49 PM

Saw it with my folks (who rarely go to theaters anymore) last night. Excellent movie. I’m not a Michael Bay fan, but he did good. And I always thought John Krasinski was a one trick pony, but he had a really strong performance. Our theater wasn’t packed, but it wasnt a bad attendance either. So sad to see Ride Along 2 is ahead.
What do expect from Americans who religiously watch reality TV, but have no clue about the world around them?

Free Indeed on January 17, 2016 at 4:31 PM

Will DEFINITELY go and see this.

Key West Reader on January 17, 2016 at 5:29 PM

I only wish Bay had put in a scene showing Obama being briefed on what was happening in real time, and then going to bed before his fundraiser in Vegas the next day.
TXUS on January 16, 2016 at 9:47 PM

Or maybe just the scene from Kingsman where his head explodes.

Nutstuyu on January 17, 2016 at 5:45 PM

Awesome movie and devastating for Hillary and the rest of the Obama administration. I think it’s great that John Krasinski is in it too. I sent my liberal neighbor a picture from the movie of him without his shirt, looking like a badass, and she may go to the movie now just because she’s always had a crush on him. Maybe the message of Hillary’s obvious incompetence and malevolence will penetrate the fog in her brain, while she watches the movie just to satisfy her lust for John Krasinski. Let’s hope there are many more women who will go for that reason.

MassConservative on January 17, 2016 at 5:49 PM

I just saw it, and it was awesome. I thought it was better than American Sniper overall. Hillary, Susan Rice, and Obama should all be hung as traitors, after an appropriately short trial of course. One telling thing that I noticed was that the CIA was buying these surface to air missiles then targeting the locations in which they were kept. This is the sort of thing that’s likely to evoke negative feelings with the seller. Just sayin’.

claudius on January 17, 2016 at 6:52 PM

Huck Fillary

Nutstuyu on January 17, 2016 at 6:54 PM

Actually, 16 million for the weekend is pretty awful. And the worst news for the film is that it actually decreased from Fri to Sat, the only film in the tip 20 to suffer that fate, and a sure sign of poor word of mouth.

warriorgreg on January 17, 2016 at 9:17 PM

13 Hours poor box office shows that the public still doesn’t care one bit about Benghazi.

warriorgreg on January 17, 2016 at 9:17 PM

It’s so perfect that Trump voters go to Michael Bay for a history lesson.

Moesart on January 17, 2016 at 9:47 PM

warriorgreg on January 17, 2016 at 9:17 PM
Actually 13 hours did pretty good…..here’s why. It had at least 500 to 1000 less screens than the top 3 movies.
13 is rated R ,other than Rev. which has more screens, the other two are pg-13. Plus given the serious black hawk down type storyline against light entertainment and a Leo Decaprio Oscar movie….you can see making 16 million is really good. It is almost half the 50 million budget of 13. I think 13 will be a steady long term winner, seeing it is actually praised by the servicemen who fought the battle!

dec5 on January 17, 2016 at 10:43 PM

Actually, 16 million for the weekend is pretty awful. And the worst news for the film is that it actually decreased from Fri to Sat, the only film in the tip 20 to suffer that fate, and a sure sign of poor word of mouth.
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warriorgreg on January 17, 2016 at 9:17 PM

13 Hours poor box office shows that the public still doesn’t care one bit about Benghazi.
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warriorgreg on January 17, 2016 at 9:17 PM

It’s so perfect that Trump voters go to Michael Bay for a history lesson.
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Moesart on January 17, 2016 at 9:47 PM

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Yep … we’re done for, we’re DONE for … woe is us.

listens2glenn on January 18, 2016 at 12:16 AM

dec5 on January 17, 2016 at 10:43 PM

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Awright ! … Then my 2:48 PM comment still has merit.

listens2glenn on January 18, 2016 at 12:22 AM

listens2glenn on January 18, 2016 at 12:22 AM
Your comment has great merit….box office mojo has 13 besting 3 other movies with more screens showings.

dec5 on January 18, 2016 at 1:02 AM

It’s so perfect that Trump voters go to Michael Bay for a history lesson.

Moesart on January 17, 2016 at 9:47 PM

…says a supporter of the guy who spent 3 solid years telling the deliberate lie of “If you like your health plan, you can keep it. Period.”

GrumpyOldFart on January 18, 2016 at 7:22 AM

Noticed in the paper this morning that “Bob” (CIA Station Chief) has come out of retirement to deny that he ever gave a “stand-down” order. And at most, it only delayed a response by 20 minutes.

GarandFan on January 16, 2016 at 5:49 PM

Indeed, that’s quite the slight of hand article at the Washington Post.

Whether or not the initial response to the Ambassador’s outpost was delayed is really not the point.

Because everyone piling on that the movie “isn’t accurate” seem to be missing the point that this attack went on for hours and the simple fact of the matter is, there was NO response from the US gov’t or the military to assist any of them.

deadrody on January 18, 2016 at 7:44 AM

Also, I wonder if they were still in uniform if the Gov. would have abandoned them? I rather doubt it.

Dr. ZhivBlago on January 16, 2016 at 6:14 PM

While on the surface this may seem logical, the fact is they were protecting 20+ CIA employees. Those people are civilian government employees that Obama and his merry band of idiots are supposed to protect. It doesn’t matter that their security was provided by “former” military.

deadrody on January 18, 2016 at 7:47 AM

Don’t get hung up on the opening cash box receipts of 13 Hours. I wanted to see the Revenant first only because I read the book about Hugh Glass many years ago. Plus, we had NFL playoffs over the weekend. I’ll see 13 Hours this coming weekend as will many others, I’m sure.

Cherokee on January 18, 2016 at 8:30 AM

It’s so perfect that Trump voters go to Michael Bay for a history lesson.

Moesart on January 17, 2016 at 9:47 PM

…says a supporter of the guy who spent 3 solid years telling the deliberate lie of “If you like your health plan, you can keep it. Period.”

GrumpyOldFart on January 18, 2016 at 7:22 AM

Heh.

It’s so funny when liars accuse others of not telling the truth.

itsspideyman on January 18, 2016 at 9:13 AM

It’s box office success may be determined November 1, 2016.

itsspideyman on January 18, 2016 at 9:24 AM

Great movie. Everyone should see it.

Alibali on January 18, 2016 at 10:47 AM

This movie has better than average word of mouth and will do well for a few weeks. 4th isn’t a bad opening considering Star Wars is still big, Revanent got Oscar Noms and well, a Kevin Hart movie that will get a certain level of ticket sales.

spec_ops_mateo on January 18, 2016 at 10:52 AM

I saw it last Saturday, and it was an excellent film overall.

There were some scenes about a blonde woman trying to make some deals with Libyans, that the CIA agents repeatedly had to bail out of trouble–it would be interesting if Michael Bay shared with viewers who she was and what was she trying to do.

Ambassador Chris Stevens was portrayed as a naif idealist, forced into hiding in a bathroom in a bulletproof vest with two bodyguards, and the terrorists killed him and one of the bodyguards by spreading gasoline around the consulate and lighting it, burning them to death.

In one poignant scene, the “chief” at the consulate is trying to contact POTUS, but the movie doesn’t mention that Obama is fund-raising in Vegas.

Then in the morning, a plane comes to evacuate the diplomatic personnel, but the brave CIA fighters have to wait for a later plane. Their two fallen comrades are flown out on the first plane, but the movie doesn’t mention that Hillary will tell their families that their death was due to a video about Mohammed.

But it does show that the attackers had set up a mortar launcher a few hundred feet from the CIA annex (used to kill two of the defenders), and the survivors are sure that it had been planned long before the attack, and was not due to a protest of a video.

Steve Z on January 18, 2016 at 1:34 PM

deadrody on January 18, 2016 at 7:44 AM

Good point. The U.S. should have at least made the attempt to send help. Maybe, knowing help was on the way, things would have turned out differently.

Cherokee on January 18, 2016 at 2:55 PM

Just saw it an hour ago. Its well done, kept my attention the entire time, very sad, but I left with added information and also left angry and betrayed.

scruplesrx on January 18, 2016 at 11:52 PM

I do not know what a “5” rating means. I give it 10 on a 1 to 10 scale, to notch.

Much more, it is a movie everyone should see for the sake of their personal and national safety – it shows how badly the current regime sucks.

RedBaker on January 19, 2016 at 11:56 AM

Edit – “top notch”

RedBaker on January 19, 2016 at 11:57 AM

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