“They’re all bad guys until they’re not” – Kris “Tanto” Paronto
If you go to see 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi for the purpose of discovering who is to blame for what happened at the diplomatic compound in that city on September 11, 2012, you will be disappointed. Director Michael Bay’s latest is strongly focused on the events of the titular period of time. In fact, conservative ideologues waiting with baited breath for an attack on presidential candidate Hillary Clinton will be disappointed to learn that her name is not mentioned at any points during the film’s 144 minute running time.
“Jack Silva” (John Krasinski) is a former Navy SEAL who has just arrived in Benghazi on an assignment as a paramilitary contractor with GRS (Global Response Staff). GRS is providing security at a secret CIA facility in Benghazi. After a scare en route from the airport to the facility, Jack meets the other members of the GRS team. Mark “Oz” Geist (Max Martini), Kris “Tanto” Paronto (Pablo Schreiber), “Dave ‘Boon’ Benton” (David Denman), Glen “Bub” Doherty” (Toby Stephens), John “Tig” Tiegen (Dominic Fumusa) and Tyrone “Rone” Woods (James Badge Dale). He also gets introduced to the facility’s “Chief” (David Costabile), who really wishes the security team weren’t there. Take note that this film is based on a book co-written by the surviving members of the security team and that their real names are used in the film with the exceptions of Jack Silva and Dave Benton. Those are pseudonyms.
The contractors are there to provide oversee security for the facility and to provide “babysitters” for the CIA operatives who go into Benghazi to gather intelligence and develop new sources for that intelligence. Their lives are complicated when the U. S. Ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens (Matt Letscher) comes to town to stay at the diplomatic mission there. The contractors will be his additional security force as his chauffeurs. They visit the mission and find the level of security to be less than satisfactory. But the Diplomatic Security Service agents there tell the contractors that due to budget constraints the security wasn’t upgraded. All seemed okay, especially when Ambassador Stevens reluctantly agrees to remain within the mission on the anniversary of 9/11.
What happens next is a matter of historical fact, and the movie does not spend much time on how the incident was originally reported by the media. What it does do is show us how the contractors wanted to respond to the diplomatic compound as soon as it was attacked to protect the ambassador; and how the Chief told them they were “…the last resort” and delayed their response.
The action sequences are brilliant on a visual and auditory level, although a few special effects might have been over the top. Surprisingly, Michael Bay appears to have reined himself in to a degree and the result is extremely effective. What weakens a movie that might have been on par with Blackhawk Down and American Sniper is the writing. The dialogue in the script that was adapated by Chuck Hogan is weak and cliched. The finished product runs a bit long and would have benefited from a bit of trimming. There is jingoism to be sure but not to the level of offending those who don’t like such things. One of Bay’s best to date.