On the night of January 19th in Arizona, my roommate offered me a free ticket to see Michael Bay's Benghazi movie, as he works at a theater and can allow me access to movies I'd otherwise pay for only begrudgingly. I had a normal and safe viewing experience, though I (spoilers!) didn't much like the film. I walked out with no more damage than a bad taste in my mouth and a negative review circling my brain.
On the night of January 21st in Washington, a drunk man open carrying a gun in a movie theater saw 13 Hours and accidentally shot an innocent woman in the shoulder.
As awful as that is, I was not surprised that the target audience showed up. 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is another movie in the vein of 2013's Lone Survivor and 2014's American Sniper: a flag-waving tale loosely based on the true story of brave American soldiers that mutes historical fact and vilifies non-Americans.
It's a sign of a serious societal problem that these movies gather such large audiences on American soil, but at least they're getting worse every year. 13 Hours is little more than another jingoistic war film. At least the cast is competent.
Things kick off by introducing the best and worst aspects of the movie: John Krasinski and the screenplay's treatment of Libya and its inhabitants, respectively. Krasinski rolls into Libya with an instantly noticeable swagger. He's come a long way since the snide side eyes of The Office: former serious roles of his were less than impressive, but here he's fully settled into a demanding role. Krasinski humanizes his character far more than the screenplay does, utilizes his physicality well, and reacts to the horrors of war authentically.
But right after Krasinski starts proving himself, another character spouts this line about Libya:
"The worst part is that you can't tell the good guys from the bad guys."
13 Hours' screenplay, scrapped together by first time feature film writer Chuck Hogan, is full of casual racism and zero empathy for the Libyan people. Every soldier demonstrates the kind of ugly suspicion towards all Arabs that is causing hate for refugees and violence towards Muslims in the real world. It's a horrifying ordeal to see throwaway jokes and entire sequences dedicated to otherizing Libyan Arabs. We do not need Islamophobia propagated by popular movies, especially ones that are directed towards audiences that might be predisposed to it. Sinister filmmaking.
Almost as annoying is Hogan's dialogue. Every character's words are riddled with clichés and laughable platitudes. At one point, my friend and I turned to each other and both said the next line just as the movie did- word for word. There's even a number of classic "this is my girl back home" moments: and they all happen at the same time. If you've seen a war movie before, you've heard most of 13 Hours' dialogue already.
I can respect the screenplay for avoiding an iffy political stance (other than disparaging Muslims) though. There's no one shouting "Hillary Clinton did Benghazi!" or the like. 13 Hours is first and foremost about the soldiers' bravery and the bullets and bombs flying around.
Speaking of: Michael Bay directs a capable cast. The actors behind the main band of soldiers throw a lot weight behind their performances, exuding bravery and strength in wartime and bonding like real humans when the battles cease. Bay's characteristic action direction, though, is pretty tame. None of the action scenes were especially affecting or even original in style. Beside one bomb-following shot straight out of Pearl Harbor, the rest is unimaginative gunplay.
All of the above problems are exacerbated by an unnecessary two and a half hour runtime. I checked the time way too often for a war movie.
Before 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi fades to credits, a Libyan man holds up a sign that begs the viewer to understand that extremists aren't actual Muslims. It comes off as the movie awkwardly apologizing for its own hateful stance. Apology not accepted.