By Jack Dignan
I've said it before and I'll say it again, when it comes to Michael Bay, I'm always skeptical. No matter if he's directing, producing or anything, I always hesitate. I can never trust the guy. Sure, he's made some not-so-terrible films before, but most of his filmography, both producing and directing, is utter garbage. Despite some positive reviews and decent trailers, I was still slightly skeptical about 13 Hours, but after watching it, I'm pleased to say that I'm pleasantly surprised by this movie. I went in not expecting much, but I ended up with a Michael Bay film I may actually watch again one day. That's surprising.
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is the true story of a security team working in Benghazi. Our main protagonist is Jack Silva (John Krasinski), a father and a husband who's hoping to go back and see his family again. Him and his crew are a last resort for an attack on the US ambassador (Matt Letscher), but after his unforeseen death, the security team are forced to defend off waves of enemies who are all trying to attack their compound, attempting to kill all the American's that they can find. It's an intense and somewhat horrifying true story that certainly shows a more restrained and mature side to Michael Bay, rather than his Transformers bullshit. He's taking a more serious approach to directing and it's very much needed. If he told this story wrong, I'm sure there'd be a whole lot of people who wouldn't forgive him.
At 2 hours and 24 minutes, 13 Hours is much longer than it needs to be, and when you look at the actual content the film has to offer, it really doesn't need to be that long The film's first 40 or so minutes attempts to give you an insight into the lives of these characters and the stake that they're dealing with, but it's unnecessarily long and drags way too much, a majority of the scenes not really doing anything to further my attachment to these characters. There's a few necessary scenes, but not forty minutes worth.
Once I managed to drag myself through the film's first act, that's when things started to get interesting. The characters had been set up, although not all of them were ever given too much screen time, and so it was time for the actual plot to get under way. We're instantly hit with an explosive sequence out on the streets, where just about anything that can happen, does happen. It's intense, violent and gripping, and I'd even go so far as to say it made up for the film's slow opening. Almost.
What becomes apparent in this first major action set piece is that this is the film Michael Bay was born to direct. It never once feels like your groan worthy Michael Bay film, and that's because he's actually trying. With the Transformers movies, all he really cared about was how many under skirt shots he could get of young women. With 13 Hours, he actually seemed to care about making a good movie, and he did. His visual eye blended well with his explosion-fetish, resulting in a film that deserves the explosions. They're all there for good reason, something Bay hasn't seemed to understand until now.
From here on out, the film is essentially these men fighting off waves of enemies, and while it does get rather repetitive and drawn out after a while, it's unpredictable, squeamishly violent and insanely gripping. War films, if done right, are impossible to turn away from, and 13 Hours is one of them. It's by no means the best film ever made, but it's done well enough to have my eyes glued to the screen, and it even ends on a rather emotional note after a shocking finale. John Krasinski, kudos to you, man. You gave one mighty fine performance and have proven yourself to be a surprisingly great actor.
To sum up, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is Michael Bay at his most mature. It's painfully slow and occasionally repetitive, but it's also an intense, exciting, brilliantly brutal and hard to look away from war thriller with performances I didn't expect to be as good as they were.
3 1/2 Stars