13 Hours feels like a first-person shooter. It proves that a Call of Duty film can be done, and like those video games, it will be entertaining if the audience walks in with the right mindset. Do not expect complex character development or an insightful, bipartisan take on a tragedy.
This is a Michael Bay film. Don’t think. Because when you do, it all starts to fall apart.
13 Hours, by its own admission, is the “true story” of the 2012 Benghazi Terrorist attack on an American diplomatic compound, told from the perspective of the security team of a CIA annex located a mile away. In an event where everything goes wrong, these military veterans try to do the impossible to save as many lives as they can.
The reason why 13 Hours cannot be written off as a simple action thriller is because it tells the audience that it isn’t. Within the first few minutes, it claims that all one is about to see is real. Not “based on” or “inspired by” true events. Which makes it a lie. No historical film is completely accurate. They are not supposed to be. By saying it is, 13 Hours detracts from the film going experience because suddenly every frame is questioned. This is why the film works best with one’s brain shut off.
The film is uncomfortable to watch because of its simplistic take on an event that is more layered and complicated than the film suggests. Its ease at dividing the good guys from the bad, both on the battlefield and in the CIA annex, feels at times like propaganda. Especially due to the timing of its release.
The one fascinating aspect of the film is its presentation of masculinity and its various forms. Somewhere, a liberal arts major is writing a thesis on Michael Bay and his consistent argument that men who are passive and educated are incapable of ever being efficient or right. His glorification of the aggressive, ripped and juvenile action hero continues in 13 Hours.
John Krasinski’s performance as Jack is fine, especially when he is allowed to be human. The same goes for James Badge Dale as Rone. Everyone else, however, fails to be more than the persona they are assigned. It is only because of Krasinski and Dale that eyes will get watery in the cinema. Krasinski also offers audiences a look at what it would have been like if he was cast as Captain America. He was in the running, after all.
13 Hours should be commended for portraying the pain and loss of war on both sides, with one scene showing the Libyan women and children who lost members of their family as well. One of the most powerful moments was the Libyan people mourning the late ambassador, holding posters saying that this tragedy was not because of Islam.
If one can forgive this film for its inaccuracies, then it should be enjoyable. However, its not a film that has to be seen in theaters. DVD will do.
13 Hours was released nationwide on January 15, 2016.