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American Sniper fans might like Michael Bay's noisy patriotic actioner
13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI (Michael Bay). 130 minutes. Opens Friday (January 15). See listing. Rating: NN
Look, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi is exactly the movie America needs right now. In an uncertain world dominated by terror talk and rabid jingoism (hi, GOP race!), Michael Bay’s brand of orgiastic violence could be seen as a taking of the cultural temperature.
I just hope that isn’t the case. Because 13 Hours may have its heart in the right place – honouring the brave men in uniform, even if the heroes of this particular story were ex-military contractors – but it’s terrible.
This is Bay’s version of Black Hawk Down, an ultra-intense recreation of Americans under fire in a foreign country. Here, the subject is the attack on the U.S. ambassador’s residence and a nearby CIA base in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012, a siege in which four Americans were killed while dozens more were protected by a handful of ex-military contractors working security.
13 Hours repackages the story in Bay’s trademark slick, ultra-patriotic fashion, with its handful of bloodied veterans hunkered down against an overwhelming threat as flags wave (or burn) over their shoulders.
But Bay and screenwriter Chuck Hogan struggle to structure their movie – which really just boils down to a few exchanges of heavy fire – as an action epic, spending nearly an hour on unnecessary stage-setting to establish the central conflict between battle-hardened heroes (among them James Badge Dale, Pablo Schreiber and former Office rivals John Krasinski and David Denman) and the fussy CIA lifer (Breaking Bad’s David Costabile) who insists, somewhat absurdly, on following the rules. After the galvanizing first assault, there’s another hour of swaggering Team America bro-bonding – under fire, but still.
Worse, Bay’s embrace of flyweight digital cameras means the movie frequently risks incoherence, to the point of losing track of key characters. (It’s definitely intentional the first time I’m not so sure about the next time it happens.)
The attempts at pulling out for a larger view of the issues in play – and maybe implying that the Obama administration let the carnage happen for some unknowable, cynical reason – don’t really work at all. By the time Bay gets there, it’s just more noise.
But the American Sniper crowd will love it.