Movie Review: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

John Krasinski as Jack in "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi" Photo credit: Christian Black © 2015 PARAMOUNT PICTURES. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

John Krasinski as Jack in “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” Photo credit: Christian Black © 2015 Paramount Pictures. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Can director Michael Bay “transform” himself from sci-fi to reality?

By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)

It may be that the more we’re barraged with headlines reporting one horrific attack after another, the more we’re likely to become numb. Though there’s no end to words and photos, they’re static, unable to convey a palpable, you-are-there sensibility. Worse, the 2012 attack in Benghazi has been twisted from a tragic event into an opportunistic political battleground. All the while forgetting the victims … as well as the heroes.

Along comes 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi to refocus the attention where it belongs — on the victims and, in particular, these largely unsung heroes. Filmmaker Michael Bay (yes, that Michael Bay of The Transformers franchise) delivers a hard punch in the gut with this true story of six ex-military operators turned CIA contractors who, on the 11th anniversary of 9/11, volunteered to act as a human shield between the U.S. diplomatic compound (and the nearby CIA annex), and wave upon wave of Islamist terrorists. As per the title, the film is a graphic depiction of the 13-hour onslaught that resulted in the death of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

The movie is based on the 2014 book, “13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi” by Mitchell Zuckoff and the Annex Security Team. Per Zuckoff’s note to the reader at the beginning of his book: “Previous accounts of these events … have disturbed and even disgusted the men whose story is told here. The goal of the real security team members is to recount the Battle of Benghazi through as transparent a lens as possible. Consider it the first word directly from the battlefield, from men who know from hard experience and seared memories what actually happened during those harrowing thirteen hours.”

(l to r): Pablo Schreiber ("Tanto"), John Krasinski ("Jack"), David Denman ("Boon") Dominic Fumusa ("Tig") Photo credit: Christian Black © 2015 PARAMOUNT PICTURES. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

(l to r): Pablo Schreiber (“Tanto”), John Krasinski (“Jack”), David Denman (“Boon”), Dominic Fumusa (“Tig”). Photo credit: Christian Black © 2015 Paramount Pictures. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Filmmaker Bay brilliantly reenacts the events with his special brand of jaw-dropping action. But it’s more than one fraught battle after another. Chuck Hogan’s screenplay allows us to meet these six men individually. As a group, they’re comprised of retired Navy SEALs, ex-Marines and ex-Army Rangers who’ve now joined up with the GRS (Global Response Staff). A disparate crew of sharp shooters, there’s the eagle-eyed veteran/proud daddy who can discern viable danger in any crowd (James Badge Dale’s Tyrone), the extroverted funnyman (Paulo Schreiber’s Tanto), the gentle, philosophic bookworm (David Denman’s Boon), the savvy leader (Max Martini’s Oz) and the self-assured Benghazi expert who’s currently on his fourth trip to Libya (Dominic Fumusa).

The movie opens on the sixth man, protagonist Jack (a superb John Krasinski) as he’s en route from America to Libya in order to meet up with the others. Jack is the heart of 13 Hours, a man struggling to rid himself of his inner warrior in order to fully commit to his family.

These are guys we would want to invite to dinner … kind, humorous, smart and, hired guns or no, steadfastly patriotic. Given their skills, if any elite group could have stopped 150 terrorists outfitted with a massive war chest of rocket-propelled grenades, AK-47s, diesel canisters, mortars and car-mounted machine guns, this crew would be the one to call.

When trouble first erupts, the ever-ready team is about to charge to the rescue — until they’re ordered to stand down by the caustic, officious CIA boss (David Costabile’s “Bob”). It turns out that Bob’s agenda is to protect his spotless record first, and the Embassy second. Since this is Bob’s last job before retirement, he fears a black mark from his superiors if he allows the guys to rush to the Ambassador’s aid prior to sanctioned approval. After 25 minutes of Bob’s stonewalling, the men override his orders and attempt the rescue. But they’re too late. Realizing that the CIA annex will be the next target, the men hurry back and fight to the death, ultimately saving over 30 Americans. Including Bob.

(l to r): Pablo Schreiber, David Denman. Credit: Dion Beebe © 2015 PARAMOUNT PICTURES. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

(l to r): Pablo Schreiber, David Denman. Photo Credit: Dion Beebe
© 2015 Paramount Pictures. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Filmmaker Bay is no stranger to high-powered action. And though Bay still exhibits a penchant to overdo, he infuses much of the action with character and humanity, creating a film that is as high on octane and suspense as it is on emotion.

Malta and Morocco make credible stand-ins for Libya, depicting the heat, the arid terrain and the nonsensical jumble of the narrow streets that adds an additional layer to the tension. Given the barrage of firepower gone rogue, it’s hard to believe that the movie was shot in 10 weeks on a $50 million budget … less than a quarter of the $210 million spent on Bay’s last Transformers.

Akin to the dust-up from Zero Dark Thirty, the film should expect a torrent of detractors who will question the veracity of the CIA contractors’ account of the Battle of Benghazi. While purposely avoiding any finger-pointing at the top of the governmental food chain, 13 Hours freely criticizes the lack of security at the diplomatic compound, the actions of CIA Chief “Bob,” and the U.S. military’s inexplicable failure to send any kind of rescue. It’s harrowing to watch desperate CIA annex personnel ceaselessly calling for help … and to see their efforts go unheeded. More than head-shaking, it’s infuriating.

“Benghazi” is far more than a political buzzword. If it takes a film like 13 Hours to remind us of that fact, then job well done.


Rating on a scale of 5 (should be 6) secret soldiers: 4

Release date: January 15, 2016
Directed by: Michael Bay
Screenplay by: Chuck Hogan
Based on the book by Mitchell Zuckoff, “13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi”
Cast: John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Pablo Schreiber, David Denman, Dominic Fumusa, Max Martini, Alexia Barlier, David Costabile, Matt Letscher, Toby Stephens
Running Time: 144 minutes
Rating: R

Here is the trailer:

About Kimberly Gadette

Film critic Kimberly Gadette, born and raised in movie-centric L.A., believes celluloid may very well be a part of her DNA. Having received her BA and MFA from UCLA's School of Theater, Film & Television, she spent many of her formative years as an actress (film, tv, commercials, stage) before she literally changed perspective, finding a whole new POV from the other side of the camera. You can find her last 500+ reviews on Rotten Tomatoes ( Other than taking the occasional side trip to Cannes or Sundance, you can find her at the movies ... sitting in the dark as usual.

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