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"13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI"
(2016) (John Krasinski, James Badge Dale) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Action: Six ex-military, CIA contractors try to hold off an armed attack on a government compound located in Benghazi, Libya.
PLOT:
It's 2012 and ex-soldier Jack Silva (JOHN KRASINSKI) has arrived in Benghazi, Libya to assist his friend and fellow CIA contractor, Tyrone 'Rone' Woods (JAMES BADGE DALE). His team is providing protection not only for a covert CIA operation there -- run by Bob (DAVID COSTABILE) -- but also a diplomatic outpost where U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens (MATTHEW LETSCHER) has set up shop and is protected by just a small group of men including Scott Wickland (DAVID GIUNTOLI) and Dave Ubben (DEMETRIUS GROSSE).

Jack joins the rest of Rone's team -- Dave 'Boon' Benton (DAVID DENMAN), John 'Tig" Tiegen (DOMINIC FUMUSA), Mark 'Oz' Geist (MAX MARTINI) and Kris 'Tanto' Paronto (PABLO SCHREIBER) -- in offering military style support and bodyguard protection while the CIA agents there do their work, including sometimes going out into the hostile and heavily armed city to gather intel. While many of the locals are harmless or even friendly, such as Amahl (PEYMAN MOAADI) who serves as the group's interpreter, others are less so.

That includes a group of men who decide to attack Stevens' outpost. Despite them being outnumbered, Bob refuses to allow Rone and his team to travel the short distance to rescue the men under attack, all to avoid an international incident. When the locals set fire to that outpost building, however, Rone and his team jump into action, take on the attackers, and get the survivors back to the main, walled compound. From that point on, they must contend with a growing number of armed locals repeatedly attacking them there, all while no government or military support comes their way despite repeated pleas for it.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
Various late night talk show hosts have occasionally featured bits where they interview people on the street to show how misinformed many Americans are about past and present events and people who aren't otherwise featured in pop culture. They can tell you all about the Kardashians and list the abbreviated nicknames of celebrities, but many are hard pressed to come up with the current Vice President's name.

I'm guessing if you brought up the Alamo, most would figure you're talking about the car rental company or perhaps the boutique movie chain. And that's despite the once famous phrase -- "Remember the Alamo" -- that stemmed from the 1836 Battle of the Alamo where Mexican forces slaughtered the Americans at that mission, including the likes of Davy Crockett.

If you bring up Benghazi, and despite it's somewhat similar siege notoriety occurring just a few years ago, the only famous name people will connect to that is Hillary Clinton. She, of course, was the Secretary of State when the diplomatic outpost in that Libyan city came under attack in the fall of 2012, resulting in the death of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans located there.

What most people likely didn't know -- I certainly didn't -- was that six, ex-military CIA contractors held off the attackers, in two separate but nearby facilities under siege, over that fateful night. Their tale has now been brought to the big screen in "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi." Hoping to tap into the patriotic fever that turned "American Sniper" into a huge hit across both red and blue states, the film is an often harrowing experience filled with nearly wall to wall action and tension.

Alas, it's also directed by Michael Bay, a filmmaker not exactly known for subtly, especially in terms of recreating historic events. His "Pearl Harbor," while technically brilliant, was otherwise a miscalculated dud especially in terms of the drama he tried to shoehorn into the true story.

Thankfully, such attempts here have been marginalized as the director works from screenwriter Chuck Hogan's adaptation of Mitchell Zuckoff's novel, "13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened In Benghazi." But removing much of the human drama element -- aside from early moments showing the men video chatting with their families back home, as well as a few temporary breaks from the action -- ironically robs the film of much of its gravitas. As a result, it often feels like Bay's "Transformer" flicks minus the robots, or a modern day version of the Alamo as portrayed via pretty much any pedal to the metal, first-person, shoot 'em military-based video game.

Sure, it's exciting and harrowing, and -- for better or worse -- doesn't bring up Clinton or point fingers at who was responsible for the debacle, aside from repeatedly showing these men and women were left high and dry during the attack. But for those expecting or hoping for the emotional connection that made "American Sniper" so good, this film doesn't deliver. And that's despite trying to paint John Krasinski's character in a somewhat similar vein of a military guy (now a civilian contractor) who's conflicted and torn between wanting to be home but also always coming back for more action.

Aside from him, James Badge Dale playing his buddy and leader of the contractors, and David Costabile as the lead official of the CIA workers, however, most of the rest of the characters don't get much of a chance to differentiate themselves from each other (a point exacerbated by the fact that the ex-soldiers closely physically resemble their brothers in arms).

Overall, I liked the film well enough to give it a slight recommendation as it's easy to get caught up fully in the action and tension. But once removed from that and looking back at the experience, the pic's flaws come more into the light. Bay's good at helming spectacle, but this sort of film needs more heart than it's given. Unlike "American Sniper," "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi" will likely end up like the Alamo, something most people kind of remember, but that's about it. The film rates as a 5.5 out of 10.




Reviewed January 12, 2016 / Posted January 15, 2016


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