13 HOURS

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Michael Bay

Stars: John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, David Costabile, Matt Letscher, Pablo Schreiber, David Denman, Max Martini, Dominic Fumusa, Alexia Barlier, Freddie Stroma.

Michael Bay does Black Hawk Down with this testosterone fuelled piece of war porn based on a true story.

The film is set in Libya in 2012 and depicts the situation when heavily armed Islamic militants attacked the American diplomatic compound and a covert CIA annex in the city of Benghazi. Four Americans, including ambassador Christopher Stevens, were killed in the attack. 13 Hours is based on the non-fiction book written by Mitchell Zuckoff, who drew upon accounts from survivors to shape the material. The screenplay was written by novelist Chuck Hogan, whose book Prince Of Thieves formed the basis for Ben Affleck’s gritty and hard hitting crime drama The Town.

Following the capture and execution of Libyan strongman Colonel Gaddafi, who had ruled the country with an iron fist for 45 years, civil war broke out as a number of rival groups moved in to take over the power vaccuum left behind. Chaos and violence and civil war shaped the country, and every nation had abandoned their embassies, apart from the US. A unit of privately contracted mercenaries, former Special Services soldiers now working under the auspices of the CIA, were in country to try and protect US interests and employees.

Jack Silva (played by John Krasinski, from the US remake of The Office, etc) was newly arrived in Benghazi and was immediately thrown into the deep end with a heated street confrontation with armed radicals. Based at the CIA compound, he and his fellow mercenaries were charged with protecting US personnel.

As the anniversary to September 11 attacks on New York’s Twin Towers approached, there was heightened tension in the region. The visit of the ambassador (played by Matt Letscher) on a good will mission made their task even harder. But when the insurgents attacked the diplomatic compound, the CIA’s officious, by the book penpushing supervisor (played by David Costabile, from The Grinch, Side Effects, etc) insisted that the mercenaries not engage with the militants until it was too late. His actions delayed the soldiers from reaching Stevens in time to save him from the militants.

A handful of the private contractors fought to defend the facility and the brutal firefight lasted throughout the night. They were outnumbered by a heavily armed force of dedicated insurgents, and this tale of heroism, courage and sacrifice and futile last ditch stand against overwhelming odds recalls other such classics as Zulu and The Alamo.

Bay is not really interested in the complex politics of this volatile region, but is more interested in the action. He captures the confusion of the fog of war with this immersive, relentlessly exhausting and physically draining film. Bay effectively captures the sweltering atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust and volatile nature of the setting. He puts us right in the middle of the action through the use of video/camcorder footage and pov shots through night vision goggles. Australian born cinematographer Dion Beebe (Collateral, etc) uses handheld cameras to give the film a gritty aesthetic and a sense of urgency. But obviously video games such as Call Of Duty were a huge influence on the look and feel of the film.

There is some particularly muscular direction from Bay, who captures the macho posturing and swagger of the soldiers. Most of the characters here are largely one-dimensional and we don’t get to learn a lot about them apart from a few personal details realised through some brief flashback sequences. Bay puts his largely unknown cast through their physical paces. Krasinski is better known for his light comedic roles, and he brings a suitably gritty quality to his work here. James Badge Dale (from Iron Man 3, 3tc) is also quite good as Tyrone “Rone” Woods, his boisterous but somewhat jaded best friend, a veteran of the region.

Bay is a bombastic filmmaker, but here his frenetic, kinetic style of filmmaking, his love of weapons, military gear and pyrotechnics and huge action scenes suits this material perfectly. Like Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down, the recent Lone Survivor and Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, 13 Hours is an intense and physically draining war movie that captures the surreal and intense nature of combat. The testosterone-fuelled battle sequences consume much of the film’s generous 144 minutes running time.

Despite its overtly patriotic nature, 13 Hours is still one of Bay’s better films. And audiences will emerge from the experience drained and exhausted.

★★★☆

 

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