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13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (Blu-ray Review)

6 Jun, 2016 By: John Latchem

Street 6/7/16
Box office $52.85 million
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for strong combat violence throughout, bloody images, and language
Stars James Badge Dale, John Krasinski, Max Martini, Dominic Fumusa, Pablo Schreiber, David Denman, Toby Stephens, Freddie Stroma.

The political uproar surrounding the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2012, terror attacks on two American facilities in Benghazi, Libya, was practically guaranteed to cloud opinions about any movie dealing with the event.

Michael Bay’s 13 Hours, based on the book by Mitchell Zuckoff, tries to sidestep the politics by keeping its focus on the attacks, and the group of Americans who found themselves defending the bases against enemy fire.

The film shines a light on the Global Response Staff, a CIA program that contracts former military personal to provide protection for its overseas operatives and facilities. We’re given a brief glimpse into their lifestyle and primary duty, serving as bodyguards for field agents dealing with contacts in a lawless city where firefights threaten to break out at any moment. Ambassador Christopher Stevens shows up to spread a message of peace, freedom and self-determination, and is killed when terrorists storm his diplomatic compound. After some delays, the GRS team rushes to the facility to rescue who they can, then has to get back to the CIA base to defend it from imminent attack.

The gunfights and explosions inherent to the story are bread-and-butter for Bay, who isn’t shy from depicting the attacks in excruciating and harrowing detail. Bay's signature action style is unmistakable but does a good job putting the viewer in the midst of the chaos and lets us know exactly where the dangers are coming from (even if can be hard to keep track of who is who sometimes). Chuck Hogan’s screenplay wisely puts most of the emphasis on the bonds between the soldiers, which gives the audience a better appreciation of their hardships and sacrifices.

While the film tries to avoid the political aspects to its story, the subtext is pretty clear. The “shadow warriors” are depicted as the real heroes, while bureaucrats are portrayed as almost foolishly naïve about the U.S. mission in Libya, which was in a state of collapse following the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi a year earlier.

The movie also throws some shade at 17-Feb guards, a local militia supposedly friendly to the U.S. The GRS team’s bewilderment over their inexperience and lack of tactical discipline is one of the film’s few sources of natural humor, but the comic relief is quite welcome.

The Blu-ray includes about an hour of bonus featurettes, which are interestingly stored on a second disc. The extras delve into the real-life heroes featured in the film, who had a significant role in its production, and hearing the story from them is almost more interesting than the movie itself.

“For the Record: Finding the Truth Amid the Noise” is an eight-minute peace that does get into some of the political aftermath the film avoids, including the ridiculous claim the attacks were part of a protest against a YouTube video critical of Islam.

“Uncovering Benghazi’s Secret Soldiers” runs 27:34 and intermixes the actors talking about their characters with three of the real guys who visited the sets (in Malta) and comment about how accurate (or not) everything is to the real event as they bond with the actors playing them. They also talk about what they did after the attacks and how they and their families coped with it.

“Preparing for Battle: Behind the Scenes of 13 Hours” is a 26-and-a-half minute making-of piece with plenty of interviews with the filmmakers, with one notable exception. While there is plenty of on-set footage of Michael Bay, and a number of people talking about him, he’s one of the few major participants who isn’t interviewed separately

“Operation: 13 Hours Premiere” is a three-minute clip of Bay and some of the guys at the film’s premiere at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Finally, there’s a three-minute “In Memoriam” video tribute to those who died in the Benghazi attacks.


About the Author: John Latchem

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