I’m probably signing my own execution order by saying this but, I must be honest, I don’t hate Michael Bay, don’t get me wrong here, the man has made some pretty hateful movies, Pearl Harbor is a horrible movie and the Transformers films have only gotten worse with each new installment. But there are a few credits to his name I can’t help but like, I still enjoy watching his first Transformers movie, the Rock is pretty solid, I like both Bad Boys movies (yes, even 2) and Armageddon has enough guilty pleasure quality to exonerate a serial killer, yes his style is aggressive and in your face and his sense of humor is as insufferable as an average reality TV show but there are times where it works and times where it doesn’t.
13 Hours is Bay’s third attempt to tell a true story, his first two being Pearl Harbor and Pain & Gain which are both considered offensive failures, whether that be because of a terrible love story stealing the spotlight from the true event that’s supposed to be depicted or because the film takes a comedic angle on a story about kidnapping, murder and torture. But I must admit that, this time around, Bay has actually succeeded in telling a true tale like an adult, there’s no joking about what should be taken seriously, there’s no stupid love story and Bay tried – he actually tried to make compelling characters. 13 Hours is a film that contains many of the usual Michael Bay tropes, bright colors, lots of slow motion screaming, testosterone, patriotism and enough explosions to reenact the Vietnam War, but who could have guessed, this time it actually feels appropriate.
The story lends to action naturally and cohesively, the explosions don’t feel gratuitous like they did in Transformers 4, oh there’s plenty of them, oh good Lord there are a lot of big bangs and booming pows and pings with sparks flying in all directions, but it doesn’t feel childish, if anything it would be weird if the film wasn’t explosion filled. The story concerns the security team who defended the American diplomatic compound stationed in Benghazi when locals took up arms and attacked back in 2012. An action perspective is a wise choice I think and Bay has managed to make it hard hitting, intense and engaging, it isn’t a mindless haze, it’s a haze with structure, with coherence and an endearing sense of impact.
Now I think it’s important to stress that 13 Hours is not the most politically charged film, despite the fact that the true story had much political behind the scenes carnage, but it isn’t because of laziness or a simple failure to understand anything intelligent other than k-bam but Bay has gone on record saying he didn’t want the film to be political, he wanted to tell the story just from the perspective of the guys on the ground, allowing the audience to only know as much as they do, the characters still raise questions over what’s going on and why so the film still knows there’s politics in this story but also how it wants to tell it, from an action perspective, it isn’t avoiding the politics it just simply isn’t about them.
The cinematography is edgy and unrelenting, the acting isn’t too shabby, the dialogue was actually nice and quirky, a bit too American tough guy oriented but still fun sounding, the style is fitting and has context unlike some of Bay’s other films and the action is glorious, I would be lying if I said the image of a rocket propelled grenade going haywire upon launch and bouncing around all over the place didn’t but a smile on my face as a spectacle, the editing is fantastic, the film takes the necessary time to set up the story properly and not leave the audience in the dark and its depiction of violence is interestingly the most mature thing about it. Some of the more grizzly imagery is really hard to look at and managed to make me cringe which, in regards to the amount of gore fests I’ve seen over the years and found amusing, is really difficult to accomplish. The film has CGI but surprisingly not a lot, practicality is the main focus, it’s almost as if this isn’t the Michael Bay we all know, that this film was directed by some poor sod who happens to have the same exact name.
Michael Bay did some things in this film I never thought him capable, my realization of this hit me in the face like a mad cow when I saw the scene in which the wives and mothers of the enemy insurgents begin weeping over their lifeless bodies when the destruction is finally over, Bay actually handled emotion, he went out of his way to portray the enemy as people and not just faceless blood bags to be shot, I’m honestly rather impressed. Now none of that is to say this is a great film, I’m glad I watched, I had a good time with it and its certainly worth a watch but there are some issues that can’t be forgotten about. What’s stopping this film from being in the same league as Lone Survivor or Black Hawk Down is that it goes on for way too long, the first hour is stuffed with scenes that are supposed to make us care for the heroes as they converse with their families but every time one of these scenes ended, I wondered if it’s absence would actually be a good thing.
It’s very macho, very pro American and has more than its fair share of patriotism that served only to take me out of it, when the bad guys start shooting at the American flag and the camera hovers over to a bullet ridden flag floating atop a rubble ridden swimming pool I’m no longer into it, I’m no longer immersed and it then takes a while to get back to where I was. Amazingly the film’s sense of humor has nothing wrong with it, in fact I would say to Mr. Bay that this kind of humor is what he should try with Transformers, enough with the testicle gags and racist stereotypes and do what you did in 13 Hours, here it’s restrained and stems from the characters goofing around so it makes sense for there to be a bit of humor. I wish I didn’t have to say this but I did start to want the film to hurry up and end, as it nears is close it does start to really drag simply because of scenes that could easily be cut out; which is a shame really.
It’s strange but 13 Hours is actually quite solid, it’s exhilarating, impactful, well shot, well choreographed, way too long for its own good, not the most memorable film in the world but it does its best to be grown up, to get real, even with all the patriotism and macho rubbish it tried it’s hardest I think it did just fine.