I saw 13 Hours over the weekend.
Worst Fears Not Realized: I’ve been rooting for this movie for a long time – ever since I met “John “Tig” Tiegen (Dominic Fumusa), and Mark “Oz” Geist (portrayed in the movie by Dominic Fumusa and Max Martini, respectively), and got a chance to interview them on my show last year.
But when I saw that Michael Bay was directing it, I felt my hope curdle into a icy ball of despair. Bay was behind the loathsome Pearl Harbor and all the bad Transformers movies that followed on after the good one. (Of course, he also did The Rock and the very underrated Pain and Gain, so perhaps I’m being a little harsh on the Bayver).
In a Michael Bay movie, .223 rounds apparently use napalm as a propellant.
But while it included some of Bay’s signature moves – the MTV-era editing, the slow-mo explosions, the Die Hard-style wisecracking between battle scenes – it all actually worked well. And sometimes superlatively – as in a scene when a group of State Department employees in an armored Mercedes are getting shot at at point-blank range by a group of locals. Really, really stunning sequence.
But the movie largely focused on the story. And it’s there that things get interesting.
The Story Behind The Story: The movie, of course, is about one of the most controversial events in recent years – the September 11, 2012 attack on the US diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. During the attack, the US Ambassador, a State Department communications staffer, and two CIA security contractors were killed. The situation could have gotten much worse but for the team of CIA contractors – ex-military men working as guards for the CIA compound – who responded, defending the State Department compound for 13 hours, until a scratch team of American intelligence and military led a friendly Libyan militia to the rescue.
In a typical Michael Bay movie, there’d be a twist at this point. I won’t give you any spoilers, but any infantryman can probably tell you how this turns out.
The controversy – for those of you who’ve been asleep for the past three years – is over whether a “stand down” order was given to successive levels of potential US paramilitary and military response, from the contractors on the scene all the way up to the Air Force in Italy and the 10th Special Forces group in Croatia. If so, of course, then the Ambassador and the contractors were left dangling for half a day without any government support. The Administration and the CIA have angrily denied it; Hillary Clinton said it made no difference at this point; the contractors on the scene all swear by it.
It’s Michael Bay – and yet it works.
The movie plays a little peek-a-boo with the issue, but for one key episode; as the State Department and CIA staffers on the scene ask, then beg, for support, we are treated to scenes of CIA contractors being held on their leash; F16s in Italy sitting on the runway, unmanned; Green Berets in the Balkans, sitting and waiting.
Why? That question is left danging out there.
And two of the conservative reviews I’ve actually read mirror the controversy; Armond White thinks Bay defers to entertainment over substance, using the tension as just another showy Michael Bay editing trick. Cranky T-Rex at Hot Air thinks it’s a feature, not a bug:
Bay and screenwriter Chuck Hogan wisely avoid having the story they are telling sidetracked by political concerns. Instead they are able to hammer home the horrible truths about Benghazi that have thus far been written off as Republican political pandering.
Of course, this blog’s standard procedure is to assume all bureaucrats are lying, so you know where my money is.
The movie has been portrayed as a challenge to the inevitability of Hillary’s coronation. I’m way too cynical to think the American people are that perceptive – but hope springs eternal.
Brothers In Arms: The casting, of course, was interesting to say the least.
For starters – if there’s one actor in Hollywood that’s benefitted from being utterly and completely typecast, it has to be Max Martini, as Mark “Oz” Geist.
Martini and Geist at the opening. The resemblance is more than just physical.
I interviewed Geist last year – and met him, shortly after that, at an event on the 13 Hours book tour – which was the first time I’d heard that the book was going to become a feature film (which shows you how closely I follow all things Hollywood.
And while I can’t honestly say I thought “Max Martini would be the perfect casting choice to portray Geist”, it all made perfect sense, personally as well as in terms of resemblance, in the actual movie.
Of course, the casting of Jon Krasinski as the pseudonymous and fictional “Jack Silva”, portrayed as a former SEAL colleague of Tyrone “Ty” Woods (played by James Badge Dale, of Longmire fame) is a little riskier. I thought, going in – “Jim Halpert as a SEAL?”
It’s not Krasinski’s first take at a military character (he played a bit part in Jarhead, in 2005), but it’s his first since he became “Jim Halpert” in The Office, one of the best sitcoms of the century so far. Did he blast out of the typecast?
Yes and no – and to the extent that he didn’t, that’s OK, since he’s not in the movie to portray a real former SEAL with a striking resemblance to a sitcom character; he’s basically the audience’s third-person-omniscient stand-in in the story.
Does he pass as a SEAL? Well, he doesn’t pass as the Hollywood stereotype of a SEAL – which is probably a good thing.
So yes, it took me a bit to get past the habits picked up in 11 years of watching The Office (and yes, I’ve seen every episode, at least in the first seven seasons, at least a few times, and yes, it’s better than the Brit version), but I pulled it off.
(The film’s other Office alum, David Denman – who played warehouse worker and Pam’s first fiance “Roy”, plays the real-life David “Boon” Benton, and passes pretty easily as a former Airborne Ranger).
Krasinski and Denman.
Conclusions: As filmmaking craft? It was great bit of filmmaking. The things that play as whiz-bang cliches in most Michael Bay movies generally work, here.
Acting? It never stretches credulity.
Well, I’ll let you watch it, and leave it to each of you to figure out what you think about it.
Worth seeing in a theater.