Review: 13 Hours Is A Profound Exploration Of Warfare

Michael Bay takes us into the heart of conflict.

Daniel Dercksen reviews 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

The heated fury of fictional reality explodes dramatically in 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, Michael Bay’s profound exploration of warfare that is a brutal and hard-core assault on the senses.

Left to right: Pablo Schreiber plays Kris "Tanto" Paronto and David Denman plays Dave "Boon" Benton in 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi from Paramount Pictures and 3 Arts Entertainment / Bay Films in theatres January 15, 2016.

Left to right: Pablo Schreiber plays Kris “Tanto” Paronto and David Denman plays Dave “Boon” Benton in 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi from Paramount Pictures and 3 Arts Entertainment / Bay Films

Loaded with suspense, Bay intimately takes us behind the headlines of what happened on the 1st Anniversary of 9/11 in Benghazi, when Libyan militants attacked six American CIA contractors who defended a U.S. diplomatic outpost.

In 2012, Benghazi, Libya is named one of the most dangerous places in the world, and countries have pulled their embassies out of the country in fear of an attack by militants. The United States, however, kept a Special Mission (Embassy) open in the city.

On Sept. 11, 2012, Islamic militants attack the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Stationed less than one mile away are members of the Annex Security Team, former soldiers assigned to protect operatives and diplomats in the city. As the assault rages on, the six men engage the combatants in a fierce firefight to save the lives of the remaining Americans

Bay takes us into the heart of conflict through the eyes of an outsider, where six members of a security team fight for their lives to defend the American diplomatic compound, with a potent screenplay written by Chuck Hogan (Prince of Thieves, The Strain), based on Mitchell Zuckoff’s 2014 book 13 Hours.

With war-themed films like 13 Hours inspired or based on true events (Pearl Harbor, Unbroken, American Sniper, Black Hawk Down, Lone Survivor and Zero Dark Thirty), it is important to realise that it is a fictional reality realised on film, and not a documentary documenting fact.

A challenging genre to tackle

Michael Bay, Oz, author Mitchell Zuckoff, and Tig on the set of 13 Hours.

Michael Bay, Oz, author Mitchell Zuckoff, and Tig on the set of 13 Hours.

It is a fantastic (but immensely challenging) genre for any visionary to tackle and fits Bay like a glove; he is a major exponent in the arena of directing big-budget action films during his 20-years career,  characterized by fast cutting, stylistic visuals and extensive use of special effects, including frequent depiction of explosions in films like the science fiction disaster thriller Armageddon (1998), the epic war film Pearl Harbor (2001) and the science fiction action films in the Transformers film series.

What makes it challenging for the filmmaker and those involved in the crafting of film is that their interpretation has to ultimately respect the memory of those who died during these wars, as well as those who are still alive, and not merely sensationalise the truth and feed the box office.

13 hoursWith 13 Hours Bay and his actors spent a vast amount of time researching and interviewing those who were involved in the event and it shows in the utmost detail of the production design and execution, as well in the emotionally driven performances by the strong ensemble, with James Badge Dale as Tyrone S. “Rone” Woods,  John Krasinski as Jack Da Silva, former Navy SEAL, unidentified in real life, Max Martini as Mark “Oz” Geist, former Marine, Dominic Fumusa as John “Tig” Tiegen, a former Marine and one of the members of the security team, Pablo Schreiber as Kris “Tanto” Paronto, a former U.S. Army Ranger, David Denman as Boon, an elite sniper, former military, surviving ‘secret soldier’, and Toby Stephens as Glen “Bub” Doherty, a Global Response Staff (GRS) officer, security team member, and good friend of Jack Da Silva.

The cinematography by South African born Dion Beebe perfectly captures the essence and action of war, you will never believe that production designer Jeffrey Beecroft transformed locations in Malta into the real-word of Benghazi, and the wild tempo and rhythm of editors Pietro Scalia and Calvin Wimmer fully supports Bay’s insane pace.

A gritty and definitive realism

It’s interesting how Bay has matured as a filmmaker since making Pearl Harbor 15 years ago; Bay’s romanticised and idealistic version of war in Pearl Harbor stands in stark contrast to the gritty and definite realism of 13 Hours, he skilfully handles the serious and controversial subject matter with steadfast passion and wholehearted commitment.

13_hours-_the_secret_soldiers_of_benghazi-1Yes, he still seduces the senses with his signature images of blood spattered cloth blowing symbolically in the wind in the aftermath of devastation, or patriotic images of battering and damage of the American flag,   but Bay never shies away from his identity as a proud American filmmaker who is cofounder of The Institute for the Development of Enhanced Perceptual Awareness, co-chair and part-owner of the digital effects house Digital Domain, and co-owns Platinum Dunes, a production house which showcases the talents of emerging filmmakers.

Bay’s passion is not purely objective; although he focuses on the brutal attack on Americans, but poignantly reveals the pain and heartaches of innocent Libyan bystanders, families mourning the death of loved ones.

Bay knows how to keep his frame alive and offers action that is so realistic that you will be breathless when the soldiers ‘’puts the fear of the USA into the attackers.’’

Whereas the American heroes have idyllic visions of their loved ones as depicted in flashbacks, the start reality of senseless death is not sugar coated.

Just as Alejandro G. Iñárritu masterfully married sound and image to heighten the realism in The Revenant, so does Bay intonation of music and sound effects, and visual artistry bombard the senses relentlessly – it is not often that you find audiences shrieking out loud during a screening when the militants launch a mortar attack on the compound, as if the attack was happening in the cinema.

Whereas The Revenant has a serene and temperate nature,  13 Hours plunges us into the heat of warfare and an orgy of explosions and firepower.

Still, Bay allows for Lorne Balfe truly emotive and spiritual music, layered with chanting, to soften the hard-core and shocking violence, crossfading the horrific sounds of death destruction to mournful singing that underscores the emotional impact.

13 Hours is a film about war, camaraderie and heroism that relentlessly plunges you into the action when Libyan militants declare open season on Americans.

A Powerful And Important Film

Although it is brutal and will upset sensitive viewers who are not prone to violence, it is a powerful and important film that shows what happens when the masses take violent action to justify prejudice.

And for those ant–Bay naysayers, 13 Hours showcases the art of filmmaking and the craft of storytelling, it is not a special effects spectacle filled with action, but, as with all Bay’s other films, it is a character-driven narrative that gives us characters we fear and empathise with, and characters we can relate to that opens a window to our own lives.

As stated in 13 Hours, ‘’the event was relived in nightmares when the reality of life faded into surreal obscurity.’’

There is an amazing moment of revelation in the film when Da Silva questions his fate as a soldier and states that he never gets scared when bullets fly around him;  fully believing that God has a sense of humour and will save him.

For Da Silva and the unsung heroes of Benghazi, there was no reward when they returned back home; the reward was not in medals, but being able to return home safely to their families.

Joseph Campbell’s quote that is used in the film: ‘’All the gods, all the heavens, all the hells, are within you,” has never been more relevant.

Make sure to experience 13 Hours on the biggest screen possible, it will blow your mind and leave you with a profound understanding of this sometimes senseless world we live in and a shed an important and relevant light on humankind trying desperately to balance the best and worst of humanity.

Thankfully we have filmmakers like Bay who dares to go the distance and journey to places where angels fear to tread.

13 hours - Michael Bay