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

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Preston Barta // Features Editor

13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI | 144 min | R
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 DentonRC.com

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.