13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is the latest offering from Michael Bay, the famed director of The Rock, The Transformers Series and Pain and Gain. This is a by far the best film that Bay has made in years. Every film he has made over the years has been far from making the audiences connect with the characters. All of them have been roaring fun adventures and visually fantastic but with 13 Hours he successfully washes off the shine and gloss from his presentation style and gives us a riveting and highly affecting epic. What also helps the case is the terrific acting from the entire cast. More on that later.
The film narrates the story of six soldiers who find themselves defending a CIA controlled compound against wave after wave of Libyan terrorist who would stop at nothing to kill one and all in the compound. The men are the security of the CIA men in the compound but get embroiled in a rescue operation of a US diplomat who is hold up in a makeshift diplomatic center which is attacked by the terrorists. They are unable to save the diplomats but when they retreat to their own compound with some survivors, they are followed by the terrorist and then begin their last stand against wave after wave of marauding terrorists. The film is based on the book by Mitchell Zuckoff and thus it has the material spot on to start with.
The film wastes no time in letting you know that it is based on a true story. The characters immediately start forging a bond with you thanks to some quirky dialogs and great performances by the three principal characters Jack (John Krasinski), Rone (James Badge Dale) and Tonto (Pablo Schreiber). The story eases into the action and does take its time to develop. You will never feel a thing as whatever is happening is so interesting that you are bound to be engrossed in the proceedings. The introduction of the characters of Jack and Rone unfolds under tense situation. The film jumps from one tense situation into another and puts you in an atmosphere where you cannot trust anyone. Every man in this topography is a potential threat and the numerous chase sequences will remind you that from time to time.
The action is mostly urban combat in line of films like Black Hawk Down and Lone Survivor wherein there are bullets flying in from all corners. The surprise element is added by the volatile nature of the inhabitants and the fact that every non-American is a potential threat. The film keeps the action very realistic. Though there are multiple slow motion shots and some trademark Michael Bay touches, the action sequences remain rooted in reality. The explosions, the flying RPGs and Mortar shells and the crumbling buildings provide a visceral rendering of the war. There is a scene where the terrorist set fire in a diplomatic building and our protagonists try to make way inside the building. With no idea of the enemy and a house on flames, the confusion, the anxiety and the breathlessness of the action gives you a terrific picture of what happens in a situation like this.
Apart from the action, the film has a considerable amount of time devoted to the six soldiers and their family lives including a collage of the men speaking with their families before they embark on the mission which by the way they are not aware of until they are actually thrust right in the middle of. No of this part feels forced or formulaic and it actually flows effortlessly with the basic theme and premise of the film. The addition of this part actually adds the much needed depth to the characters which makes them even more accessible to us.
On to the performances. My favorite of the lot was James Badge Dale. He is supremely confident in his essay. Towards the end, the manner in which he takes over the whole operation and the way in which the other characters rally with him is great to watch. He is also the one with some of the best lines to his credit. Pablo Schreiber is the next best thing. He is an extremely animated fellow and we have seen it time and again that men like him always garner the attention. He is funny in some of the most bizarre situations and it only makes him that much more loveable. He fights a large chunk of the war in shorts. Toby Stephens has a short role but he looks the part and shines. John Krasinski is the sense amidst all the chaos and he remains his calm and composed self all the way through. He may be the one to have the least impression out of the men but that’s not a bad thing for the kind of character that he portrays.
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is a tense affair from start to finish. The film unfolds in an unsettling and gripping manner. I loved the execution. The action is fantastic as can be easily expected of a Michael bay film and for once he builds the characters in a manner that is not superfluous. The story in itself is captivating and Bay leaves no stone unturned to present it with flair. The only complaint that one can have with the film is its monotonous take on the matter. But that again is not something which is entirely in the control of the director as he has to present the story in a manner as it unfolded. So for those who are easily bored by prolonged war violence may give it a miss. For the rest, this will be more than a satisfying watch. I mentioned this before, and I am telling it again. This is easily Michael Bay’s best film in years and chances are it may just be his best till date.