FILM REVIEW – 13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI. With John Krasinski, Pablo Schreiber, James Badge, David Denman, Dominic Fumusa. Written by Chuck Hogan. Directed by Michael Bay. Rated R for strong combat violence throughout, bloody images, and language. 144 minutes.
Don’t you just hate it when a movie gets caught up in politics? When “The Right Stuff” came out–about the Mercury astronauts–there was more talk about whether it would impact the potential presidential campaign for John Glenn than on the quality of the film. With “American Sniper,” a superb film about the price our soldiers pay, it became a marker in the debate over the war in Iraq.
Now we have 13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI. Objectively it is a solid film about a group of soldiers–actually former soldiers performing as contractors–trying to hold things together at a remote Libyan outpost under attack. A bit overlong, it is still a compelling film about men in combat in a region where you can’t tell friends from enemies. That isn’t how it’s going to be perceived.
If you think FOX News is a legitimate source of information, you may as well stop reading right now, because this review will be focusing on fact, not fantasy. There is no “Benghazi scandal.” Hillary Clinton did not “abandon” Americans under attack nor did she try to “cover up” anything. Several Republican Congressional committees attempted to pin everything on her and came up utterly empty. That’s reality.
The film tries to stick to the facts. There’s a passing reference to protests against an anti-Mohammad film that were taking place elsewhere in the Muslim world on Sept. 11, 2012, but it’s clear that had nothing to do with the attacks in Benghazi. We see that the official outpost and the “secret” CIA location were undermanned for security and that help was distant and slow to come.
Our focus are the six contractors who are there to support security efforts. The CIA station chief both needs and resents their presence, but when they come under attack he’s told, “You’re in our world now.” If at first it feels like a video game–this is a Michael Bay film after all – the attack quickly turns real. There’s the confusion over the lack of identification. The chief is constantly asked if they’re expecting any “friendlies” when, for example, police cars pull up at the gate. The men have to try to anticipate the next move of the unknown enemy while at the same time deal with the ebb and flow of the attack. One notes that the downtime is the worst of it, as the adrenaline drains and they start to crash.
“13 Hours” is not a political film, but will be treated as such by those with an agenda, who will complain there’s no scene with then-Secretary of State Clinton cackling with glee at the deaths of Americans. Outside the bubble of right-wing crazies, nothing like that ever happened. As Steven Colbert famously noted, reality has a well-known liberal bias. Recounting what actually happened during that attack is an opportunity to see America’s defenders pull together under nightmarish conditions. It’s what we’re made of. It’s too bad the movie is unlikely to be perceived that way.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.