13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

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Laura Clifford 
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Robin Clifford 

On the eleventh anniversary of 9/11, terrorists attacked the American diplomatic compound in Libya.  With the ambassador and his staff in dire circumstances, CIA operatives ignored their outpost chief's stand down command and attempted a rescue in "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi."

Laura:
Well, this one's sure to cause a lot of controversy, just like the tragedy itself.  Adapted by Chuck Hogan ("The Town") from Mitchell Zuckoff's book, director Michael Bay ("Pearl Harbor," the "Transformers" movies) has stated that the film isn't political, yet it asserts several facts not supported by the House investigative report and its release date couldn't be more politically motivated.  The Benghazi attacks undeniably revealed multiple points of failure, yet unlike Clint Eastwood's "American Sniper," Bay's "13 Hours" continually flaunts its agenda despite never once brandishing Hillary Clinton's name.

Those unfamiliar with events may find themselves a bit at sea during the film's first half, which follows ex-military CIA contractor Jack Silva's (John Krasinski, TV's 'The Office,' "Aloha") tense arrival.  No sooner has he been picked up by old friend Tyrone 'Rone' Woods (James Badge Dale, "The Lone Ranger," "The Walk") than they find themselves in a possible ambush situation with the CIA outpost refusing aid (a foreshadowing of far more dire events yet to come).  They and the rest of their team - Kris 'Tanto' Paronto (Pablo Schreiber, Netflix's 'Orange Is the New Black'), Dave 'Boon' Benton (David Denman, "The Gift"), John 'Tig' Tiegen (Dominic Fumusa, Showtime's 'Nurse Jackie') and Mark 'Oz' Geist (Max Martini, "Fifty Shades of Grey") are clearly not wanted by CIA Chief of Base Bob (David Costabile, "Lincoln") and his team of Yale and Harvard grads all treat them with hostile condescension.  The guys spend their time working out, goofing around and having heartfelt Skype sessions with families back home.

There a couple of forays out with the CIA's Sona Jillani (Alexia Barlier, "Conversations with My Gardener"), Bob's equal in contempt for the contractors, where the men quickly remove her from harm's way (we see arms dealing and covert communications), tailed on their retreat. Receiving the news that Ambassador Chris Stevens (Matt Letscher, "Her") is arriving and will take up residence at the temporary outpost a mile up the road, Tyrone's men travel out to assess its security which they assess as woefully inadequate.  They also opine that Stevens's protective personnel, DS Dave Ubben (Demetrius Grosse, "Straight Outta Compton") and DS Scott Wickland (David Giuntoli, TV's 'Grimm'), are inexperienced, but tell the men that should they be needed, they'll have their back.  With security on high alert for the 9/11 anniversary, the men while away a tense day.  That night, gunfire erupts and thick smoke can be seen rising above the Ambassador's compound.  In no time at all, they're suited up, ready to assist, but Bob insists it is not their jurisdiction and they are to remain in place.

Although Bay makes us witness to the attack on Stevens, he doesn't focus on the man's fate, instead concentrating on the aftermath, when Rone's men finally arrive for information officer Sean Smith's (Christopher Dingli, "Agora") final words and Wickland's hysterical desperation (Wickland's heroism, noted in the Vanity Fair article '40 Minutes in Benghazi,' is reduced here to panic, the man incapable of following instructions to 'turn left' during their retreat).  The compound is overrun, friend or foe impossible to identify, Libyan security either collusive with attackers or nonexistent.  After a harrowing exit, Wickland's vehicle arriving at the CIA post with tires falling away in flames, the men must face their own attack, unable to shoot, per protocol, until a weapon is seen.  A suspicious vehicle pulls up, a cell phone is used, then it speeds away, their location surely targeted.  All calls for air assistance remain unheeded.  Indeed, backup from Tripoli calls for an escort from the airport (a laser is pointed in the sky to guide them in, discounting reports that the laser was used to direct air assault).  After the men face a horrible loss and grave injury, Jillani turns Florence Nightingale and Bob tucks his tail firmly between his legs. The final insult is left for their departure - with space limited on an American jet, the contractors and the dead must wait for Libyan transport.

Bay's film certainly conveys the chaos of the situation, early goings often a bit difficult to decipher.  Production designer Jeffrey Beecroft ("Transformers: Age of Extinction") has recreated the two American outposts, but spatial integrity isn't always the film's strong suit.  Director of photography Dion Beebe ("Collateral") uses lots of traveling crane shots which, along with 'teletyped' information in the lower left frame give the movie the feel of a Tony Scott thriller.  James Badge Dale exhibits leadership in the role of 'Rone,' but Krasinski comes across less as a warrior than the film's emotional center, his wife's meltdown at a McDonald's during a phone call strongly reminiscent of a similar "Sniper" scene.  The rest are stoic and macho, with Peyman Moaadi ("A Separation," "Camp X-Ray") adding local color as a loyal interpreter and terrified recruit.

The Benghazi situation is complex with conspiracy theories swirling around it.  We may never know the full truth, but Bay would have us believe it is all very black and white.

Grade:  C+

Robin:
Robin did not see this film.
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