Depending on your political affiliation, the release of “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” a dramatized version of the deadly 2012 attack that killed a U.S. ambassador in Libya, could be cause for concern or celebration. The attack became highly politicized and remains a sore spot for then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, now a Democratic presidential candidate. With November looming and a Congressional investigation into Benghazi underway, could “13 Hours” be the January surprise that damages the Clinton campaign?
“13 Hours” is based on the book by Mitchell Zuckoff and directed by Michael Bay, whose big-budget, pro-military blockbusters (“Armageddon,” “Transformers”) are typically more pandering than political. It stars John Krasinski as an empathetic Jack Silva and James Badge Dale as grizzled veteran Tyrone “Rone” Woods, part of an ex-military security team hired to guard a CIA compound. These soldiers are pressed into action when well-armed militants — whose nature and origin remain controversial — attack the residence of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens (Matt Letscher) and then, chillingly, the compound itself.
This murky and tragic affair seems an odd choice of subject matter for Bay, who normally stages human-versus-alien battles. Here, Bay’s action sequences are as riveting and technically beautiful as ever, but his reductive worldview is also on display. “13 Hours” doesn’t just lionize its American soldiers, it oozes disdain for everyone else. That includes puffed-up bureaucrats, prissy British guys, Yale-educated bozos in Washington and women who don’t know their place. “Put on your headscarf,” one American soldier yells, without irony, at a mouthy European played by Alexia Barlier. As for the Libyans, they’re mostly a bunch of blood bags who explode when shot.
Though “13 Hours” never names Clinton, it clearly believes that mistakes were made and that the attack — despite initial claims from the Obama administration — was premeditated and organized. The film’s main message, though, seems to be that Libya isn’t worth the rubble in its streets and that Americans died there for no reason. Pablo Schreiber, as exasperated soldier Kris Paronto, tells a local interpreter, “Your country’s gotta figure this out.” In this movie’s opinion, it’s that simple.