If anyone ever dares to finance a Call Of Duty movie, you can guarantee that Michael Bay will be the first director to get a call. After all, his love of explosions, bullets, and uniforms is equaled only by his distaste for subtlety and human drama. Until that day comes, we’ll all have 13 Hours to gaze upon as the closest possible equivalent. Even though the film is based on a genuine tragedy, Michael Bay still manages to deliver a dumb Michael Bay movie. Sure, the one-liners and movie star stunt-castings are toned down, but the disregard for anything resembling human behaviour and deafening array of boom-boom violence remains. Essentially, this is military propaganda on a blockbuster scale. It’s something that Bay has been destined to make since he came close with the period piece stupidity of Pearl Harbour. Now that movie has finally arrived and it’s just as icky, dumb, and explosive as you’d imagine. Not in a good way either.
The Office’s John Krasinski grew a beard and buffed up, so he stars as one of six military trained security contractors who went through hell on September 11, 2012. The bearded gunmen were stationed at a secret CIA base in Benghazi, Libya that night when there was an unexpected attack on the US compound housing an ambassador. The security on the scene was woefully unprepared for the attack and the CIA refused to let the soldiers leave to help for fear of giving away their position. Eventually they were let out. It was too late to save the ambassador, but right on time for them to be followed back to the secret base, giving away the location. As a result, the six men had to spend hours fighting off wave upon wave of armed attackers, leading to a few American casualties and dozens for the Libyan radicals.
Of course, this being a Michael Bay movie and the latest in a line of winter season American war propaganda blockbusters (following on the heals of the likes of Act Of Valor, Lone Survivor, and American Sniper), none of the Libyan deaths register while the American deaths are treated as deep tragedies. Well, there is a token shot of a Libyan mother crying at the end, but not enough to humanize the opposing team. Nope, morality is as simple as a Call Of Duty game. Americans = good, brown people = bad. It’s an offensively simplistic depiction of a real world tragedy, but with Michael Bay calling the shots, should anyone be surprised? Sure, the movie is clearly attempting to play like Black Hawk Down: a messy depiction of messy war. But Bay lacks the skills to pull that off. What he’s essentially made is a new Michael Bay action flick with a sombre tone that feels a little icky.
Despite all of the protagonists being based on real people, none of them feel particularly human. All of the soldiers are given a token backstory based on whether or not they have family at home. Krasinski emerges as the protagonist because his family actually appears on screen. Beyond him, they all blur together. That’s true dramatically, since they are indistinguishable as people, but also visually since Bay’s rapid fire editing and swishpan digital photography makes it difficult to distinguish anyone. However, there are plenty of hero shots of the American flag to make it clear ‘merica is great, as well as a complete disregard to humanize anyone on the opposing side so that viewers can turn their brains off and appreciate all of the pretty explosions.
Admittedly, the action sequences are well done. Of course they are. As easy and fun as it is to mock Michael Bay, there’s no denying that the guy has a distinct filmmaking voice and knows how to blow stuff up real good. His action scenes here are relentless and brutal. He reuses that bomb-cam shot from Pearl Harbour and once again, it’s a show stopping moment. There’s no denying how thrilling and terrifying the big set pieces are and it’s easy to lose yourself in the rush of bang-bang, boom-boom as a viewer. The issue being that it’s a deeply uncomfortable pleasure here. This tragedy shouldn’t be a fun movie. Bay just can’t do anything else. So, it’s essentially a blockbuster version of the Nation’s Pride parody propaganda movie in Inglourious Basterds with adoring shots of the stars and stripes subbed in for Nazi imagery. It’ll likely get the same hoot n’ holler reaction from the right audience as well (aka Call Of Duty fans) and that’s sad. Hollywood should be beyond war propaganda these days, but unfortunately they’ve proven to be a big box office draw over the last few years and 13 Hours will likely be a hit as well. So this genre ain’t going anywhere.
Of course, as icky and politically questionable as 13 Hours might be as a movie, there’s no denying it’s well crafted. That technical craftsmanship is just being exploited for questionable means. However, if you’re tempted to buy a ticket to enjoy all the boom-boom, be aware that most of this 144-minute movie is spent in down time with bearded bros discussing how manly and patriotic they are. That material is incredibly tedious and tasteless, in its own way harder to sit through than the “character development” sequences in Transformers. However, it does prove that Michael Bay desperately wants to be taken seriously as a filmmaker as well as highlighting all the reasons that he shouldn’t be taken seriously. Hopefully, it’ll do poorly enough at the box office to keep Bay on the populist action trash treadmill rather than shifting him to a realist action trash treadmill. If you think the guy is annoying now, just imagine how insufferable he’d be as a filmmaker primarily advertising the military. Personally, I’d rather he continue to be a filmmaker who fetishizes all cinematic guilty pleasures to the point of absurdity. At least that way no one has to take him seriously, and roughly once a decade he’ll accidentally make a camp comedy classic. I can get behind that.