Movie Review: ’13 HOURS’ – Bay-hem in January


Preston Barta // Features Editor

Director: Michael Bay
Cast: John Krasinski, Pablo Schreiber and James Badge Dale

Action director’s latest work heavy on boom, light on story

There are few great modern war stories captured on film compared to the cinematic tales from Vietnam, World War II and the American Civil War. Historical conflicts are far easier to frame and less fraught with political pitfalls than the wars that made headlines yesterday. This may be why the modern war genre is slim compared to historical dramas.

Nonetheless, the most recent conflicts in the Middle East have resulted in a new wave of war movies that depict the harrowing realities of these engagements. Some films, such as Lone Survivor, may focus more on the action than the politics, but almost all have a message of some variety about war. The same can be said of Michael Bay’s new film, 13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI.

Starring John Krasinski (THE OFFICE) and James Badge Dale (THE DEPARTED), the film held its world premiere at the Dallas Cowboys’ home turf on Tuesday night in Arlington. Attendees had the rare opportunity to watch the film on AT&T Stadium’s massive video screens, as well as see the stars, filmmakers and real-life Benghazi heroes speak about bringing the courageous story to the big screen.
Just saying “Benghazi” strongly hints toward a political agenda, but 13 HOURS does its audience a service by avoiding the expected trappings. Instead, it homes in on the true story of the soldiers who took action during the 2012 attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

As any film from the firecracker guru, Bay sells every gunshot with kinetic style. Each explosive scene engrosses you in the moment of each battle. However, as expected, where the film falls short is its human drama and characters. Without real characters, interpersonal conflict or even the slightest hint of personality, the effect is no different than watching a buddy play Call of Duty.

Bay has a long and illustrious career of getting crushed by critics. His body of work includes a death train of polished turds — such as the four live-action TRANSFORMERS films and PAIN & GAIN.

Whether he’s directing or producing, if Bay is involved, critics come ready with a red pen in hand. Common criticisms persist in 13 HOURS: Bay lurches from one slow-motion fireworks display to the next, glorifying battle with his classic, ham-fisted lack of nuance. Between the CGI storyboards, however, is a surprisingly realistic film — for a Michael Bay production.

This movie will have its fans: action junkies, stalwart patriots and folks who just need to kill two hours by watching 13. Some will appreciate the impressive treatment the film has been given, while others might roll their eyes at every corny line of dialogue.

The film is a visceral action flick that is well-photographed and undeniably reverent of the real-life heroes who risked and lost their lives on that fateful day, but we are ultimately let down with a cliched script and overly Hollywood production that ignores the harrowing complexities of modern war.

Grade: C-

13 HOURS opens tomorrow.

Previously published on

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.