Marking nearly four years after the deadly terrorist attack in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi opens this week amid unrelenting controversy concerning the events of that night. Based on Mitchell Zuckoff’s bestselling book, 13 Hours, the film skims over the politics and instead concentrates on documenting how six ex-military members valiantly defended the U.S. diplomatic compound from Libyan terrorists on the anniversary of 9/11. Shown from the security team’s perspective, the movie explores the mounting tensions in a post-Gaddafi Libya, while also highlighting the sacrifices made by those protecting the American people.
Though it certainly pays homage to the bravery and heroism of the fallen victims and survivors, the Michael Bay-directed 13 Hours ultimately succeeds as an action film. Bay, who is best known for the blockbuster Transformers series, seems to struggle at reconciling sentimentality with explosive action. As a result, the movie is punctuated with slightly cheesy flashbacks and foreshadowing, as well as a spattering of clichéd sayings. Moments that are intended to be uplifting or inspirational often feel somewhat contrived.
Still, the intensity and unrelenting action of 13 Hours more than make up for these minor annoyances. The cast also does an excellent job in capturing the blood, sweat, and tears that go into combat. Notable faces include Toby Stevens, and Office-mates John Krasinski and David Denman, who play Bub, Silva, and Boon. As Tanto, the versatile Pablo Schrieber of Orange is the New Black, offers another solid performance. There is plentiful violence throughout the 144-minute runtime, and some of the bloodier scenes are hard to watch. With palpable tension reverberating throughout 13 Hours, the movie is thrilling from start to finish, and rated R for a reason.
Ultimately, those audiences seeking chilling, fast-paced entertainment will get their money’s worth with 13 Hours. Those looking for a moving tribute, however, will have to make do with a few sappy—and, at times, absurd—scraps of nostalgia.
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, January 15.