13 Hours Opts for Action Rather Than Agitprop

Posted: January 17, 2016 in Action, Reviews
Tags: , , , , , ,

13 Hours13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi does not hedge. The graphic at the beginning of the film does not read, “Based on A True Story” or “Inspired by Real Events.” Instead, audiences see a straightforward claim of absolute accuracy: “This is a True Story.” Given how politicized the terrible events of September 11-12, 2012 have become, viewers could reasonably expect that what follows this blanket statement would be a 144-minute screed against Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, especially in light of the rhetoric coming from the current presidential campaign.

Yet, that is not the case. 13 Hours is a film full of surprises, and nothing is more surprising than director Michael Bay and screenwriter Chuck Hogan’s decision to eschew agitprop and focus instead on making a good, old fashioned action flick. Clinton is not even mentioned by name in the movie. We hear Obama’s voice in remarks he gave after Gadaffi was deposed in 2011, but nothing more than that. Blame is apportioned equally between the State Department for its hubris in wrongfully assessing the threat level in Benghazi, the military for its failure to respond despite having assets in the region, and the CIA, whose Benghazi base chief is the feckless bureaucrat that stands in the way of our heroes.

Yes, there is a mention of inadequate security measures, but that is attributed to tight budgets. Two characters briefly discuss initial media reports that linked the events in Libya to other demonstrations in the region that day, but there is no mention of the “talking points” or “Sunday talk shows” that would become the focus of Republican investigations.

13 Hours is not entirely apolitical, but the philosophy that underpins the movie, as voiced by John Krasinski when he speculates on the questions his young daughters will ask if he dies in Benghazi, is more libertarian than Tea Party: what are we Americans even doing in such a place? At times, 13 Hours is as much a Viet Nam metaphor as it is a docudrama based on events that occurred just over three years ago. Identifying friends and enemies among the local population is nearly impossible, and lives could have been saved if only the soldiers were allowed by the civilians to do their jobs.

Until the final climactic battle scene when the morning call to prayer is presented as a rallying cry for the extremists set to stage their final assault, Bay and Hogan avoid demonizing Islam and Muslims. 13 Hours works and works well, for the most part, as a contemporary version of a traditional war movie in the same vein as John Ford’s Fort Apache. It is something of a shame that so much of the pre-release publicity has been provided by the campaigns of Republican presidential aspirants looking to advance their own candidacies. The net effect is a limiting of the potential box office for a solid and entertaining movie.

Is this Michael Bay’s best film as some have claimed? That’s like being asked to judge the sweetest smelling fart prize at a baked bean eating contest. Putting aside an evaluation of Bay’s complete filmography, it’s safe to say that 13 Hours offers a surprisingly good time – a shoot ’em up rather than a civics lesson.

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