Much of Michael Bay’s career has been spent in the land of make-believe, usually concerned with the best way of shooting two gigantic robots having a scuffle. Yet, his last film based on real events was the surprisingly excellent Pain & Gain, where he played up to the farcicality of the narrative, and produced a frivolous, light drama that made for immensely entertaining cinema. This time round, however, he depicts the fateful attack in Benghazi, Libya on September 11th 2012 on an American compound. Given the nature to this profound, upsetting tale, he isn’t provided with the same sense of freedom and license. This is exactly where this generic picture falls short, lacking in that human, rawness that the story demands.
Our focus is primarily on Jack (John Krasinki) who joins his friend Rone (James Badge Dale) in Benghazi in a bid to restore order to a community in turmoil following the recently departure of the oppressive dictator Gaddafi. Though initially appearing to be a somewhat straightforward operation, the pair – alongside compatriots Tanto (Pablo Schreiber), Oz (Max Martini), Tig (Dominic Fumusa) and Boon (David Denman) – find themselves in severe danger when a vast group of locals attack, leaving them outnumbered and fighting desperately for their lives as they await some much needed, friendly back-up.
One of the issues with this underwhelming drama is the lack of depiction for both sides fighting this war. No matter how reprehensible the antagonists may be, it is essential for filmmakers to offer a balanced, impartial take – also working as a means to allow the viewer to attempt to understand the motives and intentions of the other side. Instead, 13 Hours features not a single character with any depth nor distinction from the Libyan attackers, appearing merely as nondescript, faceless villains. That said, even the American soldiers are not exactly fully realized, well-crafted creations. Without palpable back-stories or nuances, it’s a struggle to fully connect emotionally with their situation.
We also seem to be without that one protagonist, a clear entry point that can provide this film with a real focus. On a more positive note, the action sequences are compelling in parts, unrelenting in their approach. Bay, for all of the criticisms, has certainly created an immersive second act, albeit making up for the flaws of the first.