Review: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

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How do you tell a story like 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi and do it justice?

Based on a book which is based on a true story, we're taken to Benghazi, Libya where we follow a team of military veterans hired on as contractors to provide security for a secret CIA base and consultants to a U.S. ambassador residing nearby. On the 11th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the ambassador's compound is under attack and our contractors are forced to stand by to keep their compound a secret from the locals, until they go against orders to save the ambassador.

Personally, I have mixed feelings on many aspects of the film.

What I Liked:

  • The storytelling: At times I felt as though I was plunked right into a warzone and wondered if my friend, a veteran, would feel the same way. It was also told in four acts. Yes, it's unnecessary and bad storytelling, but real life events don't occur in three acts. This added to the tension of not know what was going to happen next, and made it seem more authentic because the battle occurred in waves: you attack and defend, then regroup and stay alert to do it an indefinite amount of times until it's done.
  • The acting: No one stood out or stole the scenes. Why is this good? In order to do a story like this justice, you don't want to get in the way of telling it. I was never hating anyone for opposing our heroes because they were just doing their job.
  • You don't know the other side. The writers didn't try to get into the heads of the opposition. We don't really know why they attacked. We don't really know what they planned and how accurate these plans were executed. This is the story of the secret soldiers and it stayed true to that thinking.

What I Didn't Like:

  • The storytelling: We were constantly reminded that we were in Benghazi, but were never told when these 13 hours started, or where we were in that timeline (unless I missed it because there were too many heads in the way of me seeing the captions).
  • The dialogue: Although it felt authentic and that you were just sitting in on real conversations they've had, it isn't good for this medium. At times I felt confused and the dialogue didn't help anchor what was going on.
  • The Michael Bay-ness of it: The director has a style all his own that people have come to expect – whether it be musical cues, color schemes, or special effects. This to me was the most distracting as it seemed to be overdone and took you away from the story. It even got to points where it felt as if he was doing a parody on himself and his style. There were also times I had to remind myself that he built his career on directing action movies and purposely made some of the decisions we now see in the film.

Overall, I want to like this movie. I would recommend this movie. I was rooting for it throughout the sitting. But although it has many good qualities, it falls short. I relied on my knowledge of other war films to carry me through what was going on and had to try to ignore many technical decisions that I found very distracting. Will I watch this again? Most likely, yes, but I'll probably keep wanting more.

Tags: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, Michael Bay, John Krasinski, Benghazi

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