I was quite surprised to find that I have watched almost every single one of Michael Bay’s films. The only ones I’m missing now are The Island and Pearl Harbor, after that I’ve seen everything. Now there’s a scary thought.
But bear with me, because this is slightly different from his usual shenanigans. The story told in 13 Hours adapts a real life attack that took place on a US CIA base in Libya on 11 September 2012. Over the course of 13 hours those inside the compound defended it against numerous insurgent attacks, and it is in those 13 hours that much of the story is told.
A bit of context for you: after Colonel Gaddafi was deposed a few years ago, attempts were made to democratise Libya. That hasn’t panned out all that well as it turns out, resulting in many attempts from overseas powers to try and bring stability to the region. Right now, as set out in the text introduction, it’s a hotbed for ISIS related activity. Needless to say, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Lucky for us there are heroic Americans in the area to offer some resistance, eh?
While the flag waving aspect of his filmmaking hasn’t gone away, Mr Bay is on restrained form compared to what you might usually expect. Yes, it is more of what he has done previously, but tonally it’s much more appropriate than, say Pain and Gain. In fact this happens to be a decent film. Gasp, shock horror and etc – yes, I said it.
Our entry into this world is through John Krasinski as Jack Silva. He arrives in Benghazi to join up with a security team who are helping protect both a secret CIA compound and a US diplomat who is staying nearby. Silva has a family at home, a wife and several daughters – Michael Bay shorthand for telling the audience that this man has something he could lose, but also something to fight for – even if that happens to be a country he doesn’t care about.
There’s a lengthy introduction over the first 45 minutes that allows us to get to know these men. Their hopes, fears, their reasons for being there. We also see into their personal lives, the decisions that have led them to this point.
That this happens to be the lowest grossing film of Michael Bay’s career is a disappointment. He rides close to realism, the story benefitting from both a serious tone and not resorting to cheap humour. Okay, I admit – women are given the short straw again, as they often do in his back catalogue. There are two notable female characters – Silva’s wife (Wrenn Schmidt), who spends a bit of time crying; and Sona Jillani (Alexia Barlier), who spends her time getting angry at the men who keep telling her to move from one place to another. Hardly progressive, but Bay’s making inroads very, very slowly.
I wouldn’t say that it’s an incredible film and awards worthy either, but he pays appropriate homage to the efforts of those men involved in the fight – whether their presence there was right or wrong is unimportant. Where it does succeed is, ironically, in playing to Michael Bay’s strengths as a director. He’s very good at blowing things up, ratcheting up the tension in action sequences, and providing a hefty dose of American flag waving. Unlike the Transformers films, say, this happens to be to the film’s benefit rather than a deficiency.
He even manages to step away from the whole “foreigners are evil” mantra that pervades most of his work, at least partially. It’s a step in the right direction, and I for one would quite like to see him attempt more of this sort of thing in future.
Maybe with less beards next time.