Thursday, 18 February 2016

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

"How willing ae you to die for your country? I'm ready to go right here, right now."

Donald Trump apparently likes this movie. Let me just get that out of the way immediately because the political background of this movie is a complex one, with many critics being accused of letting their personal bias influence their verdict. I’m just letting you know now, because frankly nothing seems to say more about this movie’s mind-set than the knowledge that Trump likes it.

A recreation of the 2012 Benghazi incident in which a U.S diplomatic compound in Libya was attacked by terrorists and the soldiers who were sent in to deal with the occurrence.

Michael Bay has insisted that the film is not meant to be seen as a political message or statement (no sh*t!), it is instead designed to capture the incident on the ground level, not concerning itself with the background or politics surrounding the issue, simply dealing with the soldier’s experience of the event. Well I can safely say that such a description is in fact an accurate one, as I went in knowing next to nothing about the Benghazi incident and I came out knowing even less.

I’m still unsure as to whether that is an attribute or a flaw. By not investing itself or concerning itself within the background of the situation then it’s hard to empathise with anyone in the film. What precisely are these soldiers fighting for? Yes I know its peace and security and so forth but I mean specifically, in this incident of September 11th 2012, what are they fighting for? But at the same time ’13 Hours’ never gives you a thorough insight into the lives and motivations of these soldiers or their enemies, the Libyan attackers are reduced to faceless aliens who must be vanquished. You don’t need to justify their actions, no one can, but you could give me some insight into why they felt attacking that outpost was necessary. Surely they didn’t do it simply for the hell of it, or just because they needed to be villains?

On the other hand though, if there is one thing Bay can’t do with his films it is intelligent, dialogue driven scenes. Asking Bay to paint a detailed portrait of a political scene is an exercise in futility, it’s like asking someone to punch you in the face, why would you risk inciting such wrath upon yourself? Also, to Bay’s credit, I think what he is trying to do here is to put the audience in the place of these soldiers, we don’t know what is going on at the moment, we are only aware that the situation at hand is one of life and death. It is a chaotic and frantic to be dropped in, a lot like the experience these men must have felt.

However, there is another war film that creates a similar effect. It goes by the name of ‘Black Hawk Down’ and herein lies the problem, for Michael Bay is not Ridley Scott. With that film Scott injected such a gravitas to the story as it unfolded, the action was so visceral and downright brutal that the audience can be almost overwhelmed by the warfare depicted in the film. Bay’s film on the other hand has little sense of gravitas to it, it simply seems like another display of noise and fury that ultimately signifies nothing. Scott wanted to emphasise the lives that were lost that day, with ’13 Hours’ the main emphasis seems to be, “Look, explosions!”

Bay stylises the shootouts, firebombs, chases and explosions in his usual way. There are instances of slow motion, low angle tracking shots and a highly saturated colour scheme as well as rapid fire editing and shaky-cam, none of which really rings true to the concept of visceral and chaotic action. There is a minimal amount of characterisation and even that is accomplished through the most conventional attempt at tear-jerking imaginable, phone calls to home and staring longingly at family photos or passionately telling their life stories to fellow soldiers. It doesn’t help that the movie lasts for two hours and twenty two minutes, which is simply too long. Even if your intention was to capture the chaos of a singular moment, you can’t keep blowing stuff up for that long, that first hour in particular is rough to get through, not because it’s challenging but because it is boring and uninteresting.

When Bay says ’13 Hours’ isn’t about politics, what he seems to mean is that it isn’t about anything really, not the people, the background, the aftermath or the loss of life, just the action.

Result: 4/10

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