There are two names you won’t hear in 13 Hours: Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The movie isn’t about them. It isn’t about their ass-covering sycophants in the government and the press. It isn’t about electoral politics. It’s about a handful of very brave men who saved a lot of American lives one night in September 2012, despite the failure of their leaders.
The following isn’t a movie review, just a few random thoughts, but I suppose there are some spoilers if you haven’t paid any attention to the news since Sept. 11, 2012. So be advised.
A lot of people are dismissing 13 Hours already, sight unseen, because it’s a Michael Bay flick. It’s the first movie of his I’ve sat all the way through since Armaggeddon, but I spotted a few of the clumsily sentimental touches that soured me on him* decades ago: a burnt family photo fluttering in the wind, a tattered American flag in a ruined swimming pool, a cringeworthy line of dialogue here and there. But I’m betting that if Bay had somehow directed and released this movie anonymously, a lot of people would be surprised it’s him. Other than the combat scenes, which are astonishingly gripping and harrowing and surreal, he mostly gets out of the way and lets a terrific group of actors tell this story. Giant robots need not apply.
Bay’s two main themes: 1) The men who went to the aid of the American consulate in Benghazi that night were incredibly brave, and 2) They were left there to die. That whole night they begged for help, but no help ever came. At one point there’s a brief shot of a group of American fighter jets sitting cold on a tarmac in Italy, literally minutes away. And Bay just lets it hang there silently: The United States abandoned these guys. I muttered “Jesus” to myself, and all around me I heard similar.
My one big criticism is that Bay doesn’t adequately explain all the elements on the ground. Having read the book, I kind of understood who the February 17th Brigade was and why it was untrustworthy, and how the State Dept. Diplomatic Security guys and the CIA contractors had to work together without stepping on each other’s toes, right up until it all went south. But Bay could’ve done a better job of keeping it all straight. Even just an onscreen chyron here and there — “Here’s who this guy is and why he’s there” — would’ve helped.
That quibble aside, I highly recommend 13 Hours. What those men did was incredible, and I’m glad their story has been told. Overwhelmed, underprepared, and abandoned, they saved a lot of American lives. And it’s all the more amazing because they didn’t have to be there. They were civilian contractors, not active-duty military. They could’ve walked away with no consequences. In fact, they were told to walk away (unless you think they’re making that part up because Barry and Hillary and their pals would never lie to you). But these guys didn’t walk away — they couldn’t — because that’s not who they are.
13 Hours is being described as a “conservative movie,” but I don’t see what’s conservative or liberal about putting your life on the line for your countrymen in need. That’s not a political act. It’s not even a patriotic act.
It’s a human act.
*Hey, I love me some Bruce Willis action movies. On any form that makes me check a Religion box, I scratch out all the choices and write in “Die Hard.” But man, I really hated Armageddon.