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Film review – Michael Bay takes on real-life warfare in 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Tense action, realistic characters and a lack of political point-scoring in story of attack on US compound in Libya

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 February, 2016, 11:30am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 February, 2016, 11:30am

Director Michael Bay is best known for making films that feature massive explosions and little else. 13 Hours contains a lot of those, but this time they’re justified in depicting the chaos and confusion of the modern-day battleground. The story of the attack on the US diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012 generally sticks to what is thought to have happened, and provides some tense action scenes without belittling the sensitive material.

In the US, 13 Hours has been called a Republican film, but that’s not the case – it’s not a political movie. Bay’s film simply details how the attack by Muslim militias played out on the ground, and how consulate staff were defended by a small band of CIA contractors until the US military arrived to get the survivors out. Military and government incompetence are referenced, but Bay doesn’t go over the top with blame and criticism, and political point-scoring is non-existent.

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Bay is not known for strong characterisation, but the band of brothers in 13 Hours are more realistic than his usual cartoons. They all react differently under pressure, they manage black humour under fire, they get frightened, they follow military protocol as best they can, and they can be easily hurt. These are not invincible action heroes.

The most controversial element about 13 Hours is a debate on whether the CIA contractors, who were at a second location when the attack started, were told to wait for 20 minutes while a CIA chief tried to raise local military support. The men have said that if they had left immediately, they would have saved the US ambassador, who died. The men say the order to wait was given, but the CIA haven’t admitted that it was.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi opens on February 18