Actors – John Krasinski, Pablo Schreiber, Max Martini, Dominic Fumusa, Toby Stevens, David Constable and James Badge Dale
Director – Michael Bay
Released by Paramount
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin
What happened on the night of September 11, 2012 in Banghazi has been subjected to so much political posturing and media manipulation that the idea of a movie made about it seems like it’d be filled with even more of the same. That is absolutely not the case here. The film was based on the book, 13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi by Mitchell Zuckoff. The author had direct access to the surviving members of the security group that defended the compound that night. Chuck Hogan’s screenplay follows right along and wisely keeps the story right on the ground with those guys. There is a lot of attention to detail on display. Not only is the narrative intact but the entire look and feel of the place puts us right there. There is a tremendous amount of fighting to be seen but it is the character of those six guys whose behavior that night that really grabs you.
Though the crew of elite ex military men feels like they are mercenaries they are actually contractors who have been hired by the government to protect the small CIA outpost in Libya. They are hired guns a point that the CIA director there continually points out. Every other country has pulled their embassies out of there but the CIA is clandestinely on hand to monitor and interrupt the sale of military grade weapons that have been stolen when the government was toppled. It is truly one of the most dangerous places in the world. A new member to the team arrives. He is welcomed and easily fits in with the rag tag looking GRS (Global Response Staff) team. The CIA staff all look like nerds. The GRS guys all have beard and stay to themselves. They are very relaxed but always give off the air that though they may slouch and joke around they could rip a whole in the sky at a moment’s notice. They are cool but they are decidedly the real thing. There is an encounter on the street when thing get very hairy very quickly yet the pair of GRS guys just stay clam and mange it.
A US ambassador comes in to this hot zone and starts working the local factions. Though he appears to be liked and operating on a well intended mission the security team realizes he is just tap dancing on a powder keg here. He establishes himself right nearby in a very obvious and ostentatious location. The next night he and the outpost are attacked. The GRS guys size up the situation right away but are forbidden to get involved by the CIA director. Precious time passes and the Ambassador’s building is overrun. After a rescue mission that they all feel is too late the crew regroups at the CIA command center and sets up for what will be another attack. As the forces begin to gather on the streets we see a very low angle shot running along the ground. What we notice is that most of these guys are wearing combat boots. This is no spontaneous mob but a real coordinated attack.
The film runs two hours and twenty four minutes. The bulk of it deals with that night. There is so much chaos and confusion in the streets. There are semi-military factions that are loyal to the US. Several others are in bloody competition to take over the place. One of the guys has a hand signal he uses to determine the friendlies. They exchange the old surfer’s wave with the thumb and pinky extended. It signals, “ I’m ok, cool.” While the guys run from the burning outpost back to the CIA center they notice an open door on the street. The door is only open because it is hot. Inside they are watching a soccer game seemingly oblivious to what is happening outside.
13 Hours has tremendous production design. The buildings, the cars, and the rows of sellers in the market stalls that sell fruit and RPGs right next to each other all look real. The cast that plays the six intrepid men communicate both a mastery of elite strategic combat skills as well as that close camaraderie born from extreme circumstance. We see them cover the CIA meetings. They survey the area and yank them out of danger with a minimum of movement and no Hollywood style chatter at all. Back at the ranch they play video games and crack wise with each other. The portrayal feels very real. During the long siege these guys all show an expert knowledge of how to defend the castle. It’s six warriors with very minimal help against a large and growing group outside in the dark. The night vision goggles and laser sighting on their rifles show us how they pick their targets. They coldly assess the situation. One of them makes a remark about The Alamo. There have been several siege movies with the small outnumbered group of heroes defending themselves against all odds. The Alamo and Zulu were also based on true incidents. The real life incident here is still so recent, so fresh in our memory.
Michael Bay’s track record of bombastic box office smashes in no way prepares you for this extremely solid film. Every over the top ridiculous trait is left at the door. His flair for action and fluid camera movement has never been better. However this time he’s got both feet on the ground and is aided by the incredible camera work of Dion Beebe. The vast array of colors that paint the background is gorgeous . This guy used all manner of lenses and portable light weight cameras to put us right in the middle of the action. We also are treated to some unexpectedly beautiful shots of the war torn city at night. Right next to the CIA compound is a series of metal tubing that looks like ribs supporting white sheets. Beebe bathes them in a cobalt blue at first. Then as the battle that night progresses he references them again only now the sheets are torn to ribbons and blasted full of machine gun holes. After the battle when the first few shards of sunlight come up we see them again, only now they are splattered with blood. It’s a powerful image.
Video – 2.39:1
This film is a real treat for the eyes. Long shots are filled with colors that feel borrowed from a rock show experience yet play remarkably well here. Many of the nighttime compositions show an unexpected beauty. It’s fun to guess when we are in the hands of an actual cameraman or some Go-Pro attached to a drone or something. Some of the shots literally take off to give us a much needed map-like overview of the situation. The film has sharp detail and a strong exhibition of color. At times we get very close in on faces that retain detail and proper texture. Though this may be a bit showy for some it is a tremendous visual experience.
Audio – English Dolby Atmos English Dolby TrueHD 7.1 English Dolby Digital 5.1 French Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 English Dolby Digital 2.0 with subtitles offered in English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese.
The new Atmos feature will default to whatever is the best match in your rig. There is some very nice separation in the sound. The directionality plays well. The film does not exhibit the extra loud thunder crack in the subwoofer you’d expect. But that’s fine the overall mix is very immersive.
Extras – For the Record: Finding the Truth Amid the Noise, Uncovering Benghazi’s Secret Soldiers, Preparing for Battle: Behind the Scenes of 13 Hours, Premiere Coverage.
The second featurette that shows how the actors and real life warriors bonded during the pre-production process and even in to the actual filming is great to watch. While the ex-military guys instruct the actors in what happened and how the actors are doing a strong character analysis. It’s uncanny how close they get. The warmth and buddy-buddy behavior feels very real and no doubt aided tremendously to what we see on screen.
There are a couple of very touching moments at the premier of the film.
The three disc set includes the feature in Blu-ray on one, additional extras on another and the film in DVD on the third.
On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :
Blu-Ray – Excellent
Movie – Excellent