The CIA security contractors who fell under heavy fire during the 2012 Benghazi attack are given a patriotic but derivative cinematic salute in “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” an action thriller starring John Krasinski (“The Office”), James Badge Dale (“The Walk”) and Pablo Schreiber (“Orange is the New Black”).
Produced and directed with good intentions by Michael Bay (“Transformers,” “The Rock”), a filmmaker who likes to make things go boom, “13 Hours” excels in the one area audiences should expect from a film by Hollywood’s preeminent blast-master: action. Lots and lots of action – some of it thrilling, some gut-wrenching. However, when the brave warriors depicted onscreen aren’t being chased by jihadists or caught in a hail of gunfire, the well-worn seams of screenwriter Chuck Hogan’s clichéd script (“The Town”) are on full display, inhibiting the film’s dramatic potential. Story defects aside, “13 Hours” should find an ally in moviegoers with a taste for “American Sniper”-style war stories.
Set in the months following the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi’s turbulent regime, “13 Hours” kicks off with special forces vet and family man Jack Silva (John Krasinski) arriving in a tension-filled Libya. After linking up with former Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods (James Badge Dale), a nail-biting standoff between radical Islamists succinctly illustrates the country’s political instability. With no clear mission in sight, Silva and his fellow contractors – including Tanto (Pablo Schreiber) and Boon (David Denman) among others – are instructed by their bumbling chief (David Costabile) to hang tight, think fast and prepare for the inevitable next attack by the Ansar al-Shariya terrorist organization.
Months pass and tedium takes hold as the contractors bide their time pumping iron, drinking beer and watching the Ben Stiller masterpiece, “Tropic Thunder.” But when the US embassy, which is understaffed and ill-equipped to combat a jihad, comes under siege, these courageous contractors defy orders and forge ahead to the frontlines. As the violence escalates and the lines between friend and foe become impossibly blurred, the action shifts from the embassy to the CIA base, and audiences are given a front row view of the heroic exploits of our nation’s best and bravest.
Never one to shy away from historical war epics (“Pearl Harbor”), director Michael Bay takes a decidedly nonpartisan approach to a subject that’s been a political hotbed ever since the 2012 tragedy. And while Hogan’s screenplay does address the insufficient security detail that cost Ambassador Christopher Stevens (Matt Lescher) his life, as well as the inadequate military support and response time, it’s presented as more of an operational blunder than anyone’s individual fault. Much like the book by Mitchel Zuckoff on which it’s based, “13 Hours” thankfully leaves politics at the door, with the exception of some halfhearted sentiments about the need for Libyan stability. Besides, audiences who respond to this type of chest-pounding cinema will be so taken with the chaotic war scenes that the on-the-nose dialogue and virtually indistinguishable characters won’t impinge on their cinematic experience.
Speaking of those characters, as order-defying leader Tyrone Woods, James Badge Dale is far and away the best of the bunch; and with his crude humor and mischievous grin, Pablo Schreiber’s Tanto comes in a close second. As the paternally prone Jack Silva, “The Office” alum John Krasinski makes an uneasy transition to dramatic territory. And while on the subject of wasted talent from beloved television shows, David Costabile, who played Bryan Cranston’s ill-fated assistant Gale on “Breaking Bad,” is saddled with some of the corniest dialogue these ears have heard in quite some time.
If you’re in the market for some explosive big-screen action, “13 Hours” is the movie for you. For those looking for a thoughtful analysis of the Benghazi attack, you’ll have to find it elsewhere.
Running Time: 144 minutes
Rated R for strong combat violence throughout, bloody images, and language.