The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


13 Hours

13 Hours is a rousing action movie that powerfully suggests Hilary Clinton should be exonerated of any wrongdoing in the Benghazi scandal.

13 Hours is a rousing action movie that conclusively proves Hilary Clinton should be prosecuted for her part in the Benghazi coverup.

If you're reading this review hoping to have either of those statements confirmed, you're bound to be disappointed. Nothing in either is true. There's action in the movie, but it's muddled. Clinton's name is never mentioned. And as for politics? It would be wrong to say that the film is apolitical. It's actually very political. It's just not political in an interesting or substantive way.

James Badge Dale (perfectly cast) and John Krasinski (relatively miscast) play two of the six members of an American security team in Libya. When a U.S. diplomatic compound comes under attack from terrorists, their group rushes in to help. What results is half a day's worth of deadly combat that – as anyone who follows the news knows – leaves four Americans dead.

Known primarily for the Transformers pictures, director Michael Bay is not the most obvious person to make a movie about Benghazi. As is generally the case with his work, 13 Hours is loud and chaotic, with style largely presiding over substance. Bay takes a serious, divisive piece of recent history and weirdly turns it into escapist entertainment. (He even repeats the “falling bomb POV” shot that earned him such derision in Pearl Harbor.) A lot of effort was clearly expended trying to make the attack look “cool” and cinematic, with carefully composed shots of explosions, blood, and flying debris.

To Bay's credit, though, a lot of 13 Hours is credible from a technical perspective. Locations feel authentic, and the combat scenes have a scope that gives you some idea of how terrifying it must have been to be inside that compound when it came under attack. It's too bad, then, that many of these same sequences are also so frantically edited that it's often difficult to tell who we're looking at or what's happening. The movie becomes so hyperactive that certain important events get obscured. That makes it seem repetitive, while simultaneously detracting from our personal connection to the characters, who are risking their lives for all the right reasons.

13 Hours ends before the real-life aftermath of Benghazi began. In many respects, the film's biggest stumbling block is its failure to capitalize on the subsequent controversy, which remains heated years later. There's certainly a right-leaning tone, albeit one that stays very close to the surface. A more nuanced filmmaker might have extrapolated a larger meaning from the situation in Benghazi. Bay and writer Chuck Hogan avoid that, sticking instead to the same talking points that have been debated heavily already.

Here's just one example. Clearly facing a serious threat, one of the characters puts in a request for help from the American government, in the form of an F-16 fighter. This person is told that, despite one being not far away, it won't be coming. Bay then cuts to a shot of an aircraft carrier with several F-16s on it, none of them taking off. Would something like that have helped? We'll never know. Some insist it would have. Others, including former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, feel that there were too many surface-to-air missiles in the wrong hands, and any attempt to fly a plane overhead would have led to more casualties. 13 Hours doesn't bother to explore the idea - one way or another - in any sort of depth. Instead, it just goes for a knee-jerk emotional response, while also ignoring the fact that help was sent, but didn't arrive in Benghazi until after the fighting had ended. This is not an issue of Conservatism or Liberalism; it's a matter of not digging in enough. 13 Hours takes a passive-aggressive approach to the politics of its subject. Taking a firmer, more provocative stand either way would have rendered it a much more engaging work.

At the very least, it's hard to deny some basic-level interest in seeing the Benghazi situation played out on screen. 13 Hours also does a lot to celebrate the brave men who put so much on the line. They deserve, and get, significant respect. The movie isn't bad, but it's frustrating that it simplifies a real-life event that really ought to be scrutinized and explored. The Benghazi situation illustrated something important about the state of our world today. We still haven't entirely figured out the specifics of it all. 13 Hours doesn't really try to be a meaningful part of the conversation. It just wants to use a genuine tragedy to elicit some mindless thrills and push the audience's patriotism button.

( out of four)

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is rated R for strong combat violence throughout, bloody images, and language. The running time is 2 hours and 24 minutes.

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