Benghazi is a hashtag battle cry, a call to arms that many Americans don't understand. Unlike the simplicity of "Remember the Alamo!" a bleat of "Benghazi!" still has people wondering, "Wait, what happened? And why are we mad?"
Michael Bay's 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi has an
In an early scene, Bay primes our engines with an octane-fueled car chase where two former Navy SEALs, Rone (James Badge Dale) and Jack (John Krasinski), escape a suspicious van by smashing into fruit stands at full speed. By contrast, Zuckoff, a sentimental but terse Pulitzer Prize finalist for his work at the Boston Globe in the late '90s, merely notes, "Eventually Rone lost the tail and returned them safely to the annex." You can hear Bay groaning, "Boring. Those cars don't even talk!" When Bay finally does get to shoot a based-in-truth chase sequence starring the Embassy's bulletproof SUV, he's so excited that the car screams.
Bay argues that the men at the center of his film were fighting two enemies: the shape-shifting Libyan militias and the CIA snobs who trusted Harvard- and Yale-educated desk jockeys over these weight-lifting, beer-drinking jokers who'd actually been in the shit. Chuck Hogan's script blows raspberries at everyone from the blonde agent (Alexia Barlier) who treats Jack, posing as her husband, with such condescension she nearly blows their cover, to the cowardly Libyan guards who only care about their $28-a-day paychecks — less than a local secretary's salary. "Middle Eastern Keystone cops," groans the guard (David Furr) in charge of protecting Ambassador Chris Stevens (Matt Letscher). Good old Bob, however, a doughy middle-manger in need of a dastardly mustache, prefers the rent-a-Libyans to our band of saviors. "You're not the first responders," he grunts. "You're the last resorts."
13 Hours captures the contradictions of the Benghazi assault. Everyone agrees it was a tragedy in which four men died: two due to smoke inhalation, two under mortar fire. Yet ever since, some pundits and politicians have mourned with a dash of self-satisfaction — it confirmed both their fears about terrorism and their pride in the brave Americans who put their asses on the line. By the time Bob vows, "There is no threat here," the movie can't wait to prove him wrong. Bring it on, bro.
Of course, 13 Hours doesn't extend any of that pride to the Libyans, more than 30,000 of
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Libya's Culture and Information Minister, Omar Gawaari, has dismissed 13 Hours for turning "America's failure to protect its own citizens in a fragile state into a typical action movie all about American heroism." He has a point. To Bay's credit, the movie doesn't. Though Lone Survivor and American Sniper teetered into propaganda, 13 Hours is adamantly apolitical — unless you think all-American men of action knowing more than the bureaucrats is something new in action movies. It just wants to blow things up. Bay strips out any mention of Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama and then keeps stripping until even the characters themselves can't explain why they fight. Says Jack, imagining his own funeral, "He died in a place he didn't need to be, in a battle he doesn't understand, in a country that doesn't mean nothing to him."
The actual men weren't vague. Zuckoff quotes Tanto (Pablo Schreiber), a self-described "avenging angel" with a tattoo of St. Raphael battling the Devil with a crucifix, as saying, "I don't wish the Crusades would come back. But sometimes I feel that they should come back." And on the opposite side of the pew, former SEAL Glen Doherty (Toby Stephens) fought against the encroachment of religious fundamentalism in the military. At his funeral, his buddies toasted him with a flask inscribed "What Jesus Wouldn't Do."
Here, however, Tanto and Doherty are pared down and purified until these ideologically opposed warriors, united by valor, are interchangeable guys with goatees. They're action heroes in an action movie that too many people will accept as truth. As ever, the real story is both more complicated and more boring — the stuff of books, not movies. In Zuckoff's report, there's a moment when former Marine Tig (played here by Dominic Fumusa) brandishes a flamethrower on an abandoned Benghazi street while the other men take pictures. They wanted to pretend he was a blockbuster star. And now he is.
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
Starring John Krasinski, David Denman, Dominic Fumusa, and Pablo Schreiber. Directed by Michael Bay. Rated R. Opens Friday, January 15.