Battle of the Bay

"Did you put my stapler in Jello?"

Rated 3.0

I have liked three Michael Bay films in the past. Those are Bad Boys 2, The Island and the goofy Pain & Gain. That’s it. No Transformers, no The Rock. Keep that spastic shit far away from me.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is Bay’s best film yet. Is it the great film this true story deserves? No it isn’t. It is, however, a strong, competent effort from a guy whose action films are usually incomprehensible and schmaltzy. So, I think my “I Hate Bay” club membership card is going to be revoked … for now.

Why is it his best film? Because the cast totally rocks from start to finish, and, to put it bluntly, Bay keeps himself at bay with this one. He actually tells a story, and a harrowing one, keeping over-baked action film trickery to somewhat of a minimum. There’s real, palpable tension in this movie, something I’ve never felt during a Bay movie before, unless frustrated, confused nausea counts as tension.

The Bay tricks are still there: rapid paced editing, gratuitous shots of a buff John Krasinski glistening in the moonlight, and those unnecessary slow-motion shots that make everything look like a car commercial. The difference this time is that I didn’t find those tricks as distracting as in past Bay action films. This one seems properly modulated. It also has an appropriately gritty feel to it, as opposed to the shimmering sheen of past Bay efforts.

The film is based on the book 13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened In Benghazi, written by Mitchell Zuckoff with the cooperation of the CIA contractors who fought during the Benghazi attacks. Some of the characters in the film retain the actual names of those contractors, while others have aliases.

The movie gets right to it. On the anniversary of 9/11 in 2012, a CIA security force in Benghazi, Libya, must try to protect a U.S. Ambassador during a terrorist attack on U.S. compounds. Because of the nature of these compounds, the security force finds itself dealing with a bunch of red tape prohibiting them from flying into action and, much worse, possibly preventing them from receiving assistance from the U.S. military.

Krasinski plays Jack Silva (an alias for one of the contractors), a former Navy SEAL stationed in Benghazi and deeply missing his family back in the states. Amid reports of possible terrorist attacks on U.S. compounds, Silva remains on security detail, walking through the streets of Libya and posing as an American agent’s husband.

Other CIA contractors depicted in the film include Tyrone "Rone" Woods (James Badge Dale), Kris "Tanto" Paronto (Pablo Schreiber … half-brother of Liev), Dave "Boon" Benton (David Denman), John "Tig" Tiegen (Dominic Fumusa) and Mark "Oz" Geist (Max Martini).

When a Libyan gang busts through a security gate and attacks the compound where Ambassador Chris Stevens (Matt Letscher) is staying, the contractors, after unfortunate delays, try in vain to rescue him. The action then goes to another outpost where the contractors battle hordes of attackers all night, a night that culminates in fatal mortar attacks

Granted, there’s going to be a lot of back and forth on what’s fact, embellished fact or pure fiction in this film. The CIA chief portrayed by David Costabile in the movie is already crying foul about the depiction of his actions. So it would be a stretch to call 13 Hours a definitive portrayal of the Benghazi events.

It isn’t a stretch to say the actors are all quite good (especially Krasinski and Schreiber). The attacks are terrifying with the soldiers often not knowing if the people approaching them are friends or enemies. Bay does a nice job of keeping things off-balance and scary.

In the end, Bay delivers the goods in a fine action film. That certainly won’t be enough for some. There’s a certain lack of depth to this movie. It doesn’t have the heft of Zero Dark Thirty. With that taken into consideration, there’s still no denying that it’s a fairly strong piece of action entertainment.