Michael Bay is the King of Bombast. He not only says “Yes” to every excess, he rewrites the cinematic rulebook so that said overkill is bigger and more brazen each time. Granted, you can’t make four Transformers films (with number five on the way) and not feel free to indulge your desire, as SCTV‘s film critics Big Jim McBob and Billy Sol Hurok say, to blow things up “real good,” but even in efforts like Pain & Gain, his approach is hamfisted and over the top.
So it might come as a surprise to those who spend their days hating this director’s elephantine style that his latest, the oddly politics-free 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, is a bit more… shall we say, subtle, than the rest of his recent output. Granted, that’s a lot like saying a 450 pound weight falling on you is a lot better than a 500 pound one, but still, the King of Chaos has reeled in a few of his less effective tendencies to create an experience that’s high on incoherent slapdash action scenes (a Bay trademark) while only slightly less effective at basic narrative needs (like storytelling and character development).
If all you know about Benghazi are the buzzwords from the slanted 24 hour news cycle and talking points from your favorite pundit, you probably will enjoy this film’s pro-military stance. Bay has always had a fetish for the weapons of war and here he gets a chance to indulge in such passion for a “higher” purpose. That doesn’t mean he uncovers interesting subtext about the terrorist attack that took the lives of four Americans (like Zero Dark Thirty did with Bin Laden). Instead, Benghazi is just a framework to find actors buffed up and breathing heavy while explosions and shaky-cam cinematography measure out the mayhem.
The Office‘s John Krasinski plays Jack Silva, a former Navy SEAL now security expert who is called from his home to work in the region. He is helped with longtime buddy Tyrone Woods (James Badge Dale), and they hook-up with other former fighters such as Mark Geist (Max Martini), Kris Paronto (Pablo Schreiber), John Tiegen (Dominic Fumusa) and Dave Benton (David Denman). They all have nicknames like “Oz” and “Boon” instead of any real character depth, and when the anti-U.S. spit hits the fan, our ex-soldiers spring into action.
There is some discussion of bureaucracy and the bumbling that allowed the extremists to eventually take the lives of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens (Matt Letscher) and Foreign Service information management officer Sean Smith (Christopher Dingli), but for the most part, 13 Hours is an exercise in Bay being Bay. Everything we loathe about his Hasbro hokum is a bit watered down here, but this is one director who continues to shoot in 4K, when a simple 35mm might have been more appropriate. His on-the-ground perspective provides the requisite confusion, but outside of the jingoistic rooting interest that comes with American’s kicking ass, there is no other real audience investment.
13 Hours is like NASCAR for the neo-Con set, a “shoot first and never apologize later” lament which Bay hopes will show how “sober” he can be. Instead, this emperor’s latest outfit is as phony as his last. He remains a genius of incoherence, and in some instances, it fits the “what’s happening now” approach of the action scenes just fine. But there will be those waiting for the indictment, suffering through the two hour plus running time just to see the current State Department get it in the chops. It never happens, however. Instead, it’s all grit and determination surrounded by millions of dollars of F/X.
With its participants nothing short of plot pawns and a doomed-from-the-outset January release date, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is an uneven rest stop for an artist who wants respect. All Michael Bay will get out of this effort is a lot of free meals on the Pentagon.