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13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016)

Paramount Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 6/7/2016

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 6/6/2016

Just spend a few minutes on the internet and you'll see that Michael Bay is one of the most divisive directors working today. His movies are often hits, but many, many people...let's say that they question his talents. However, it's hard to deny that he's had an oddly diverse career. His debut was a gritty thriller which had a decidedly urban slant. He spent the next decade making bigger and bigger action spectacles. After hitting a rough patch with 2005's The Island, Bay redefined his career with Transformers, a movie based on a line of toys which really pushed GM cars and the U.S. military. Since that time, Bay has continued to ride the Transformers gravy train, save for a detour into the awful Pain & Gain. However, we now see Bay turn in his most serious movie yet with the docudrama 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. Will his style transfer to reality?

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi takes place in September, 2012 in Benghazi, Libya. Following the fall of Qadafi, Libya became a country in turmoil, with rebel forces vying for power. The United States maintained a presence in Benghazi with an embassy, a small cadre of CIA agents, lead by Bob (David Costabile), and a group of six private contract soldiers whose job it was to provide security. Tyrone "Rone" Woods (James Badge Dale), Jack Silva (John Krasinski), Kris "Tanto" Paronto (Pablo Schreiber), Dave "Boon" Benton (David Denman), John "Tig" Tiegen (Dominic Fumusa), and Mark "Oz" Geist (Max Martini) are often bored, as they spend their days working out or occasionally escorting an agent. On September 10, 2012, Ambassador Chris Stevens (Matt Letscher) arrived in Benghazi and had some meetings which garnered attention from the locals. Due to this, it was decided that he would stay in the embassy on September 11. That night, a group of local radicals attacked the embassy, setting it ablaze. Having been ordered to not interfere, Bob refused to let Rone and his crew attempt a rescue. Finally, the soldiers grow restless and take matters into their own hands. After checking out the embassy, they return to the CIA compound and prepare to spend the long night defending it against would-be invaders.

It seems like an odd forum to make a political statement, but Bay never shied away from celebrating the U.S. military in the Transformers films. If you've watched any of the behind-the-scenes footage from those movies, then you've seen Bay extolling their virtues. Given that, it's not necessarily surprising that Bay would attack a topic like 13 Hours. If you've paid any attention to the news over the past four years, then you know that Benghazi has a hot-button issue and even those who don't completely understand what occurred there have taken the opportunity to use it to attack their political opponents. Given that, one could easily expect the movie to be overly political. But, that's not really Bay's style. The movie doesn't shy away from the fact that no one rushed to help the soldiers that night and that chaos and inaction reigned, but it doesn't point any overt fingers.

Instead, Bay is here to tell the story of and celebrate the six soldiers who took it upon themselves to help protect their fellow Americans. These were men who were in Libya by choice, doing a job and they technically didn't need to go to the embassy that night, but they had a sense of duty. Bay's films aren't known for character development, but he gives it a shot here, as we watch the soldiers joke with one another and make calls back home to their families. (It doesn't help that, due to their facial hair, all of the soldiers look alike.) He spends the 2 1/2 hour running time bringing us into the story and the situation, and then allows the grueling night to play out in detail. However, Bay can't stop being Bay and the film is loaded with unnecessary slow-motion and glamour shots.

Overall, 13 Hours is a solid movie, especially given Bay's limited experience with making truly serious movies. As with most docudramas, it's hard to critique a lot of the movie, as it's simply telling the true story. Again, I did like the fact that the movie remained politically neutral for the most part. The movie does have two big drawbacks. The 2 1/2 hours definitely does not fly by. We know that there is going to be an attack and waiting for it gets very irritating at times. And again, there are the unavoidable Bayisms which just take up time. Secondly, the motivations behind the attack are left somewhat vague. So, we watch wave after wave of attacker, but their ultimate goal isn't spelled out. Still, for those who want to know more about this story or who are interested in tales of camaraderie amongst soldiers, you’ll most likely like 13 Hours.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi does nothing to make security work look appealing on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 28 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no defects from the source materials and traces of grain, clearly used for artistic effect. The colors look very good, and although half of the film takes place at night, the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is very impressive, as we can make out the textures on objects. The depth is good as well, and the image is never soft. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 5.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. As one would expect, the battle sequences feature constant stereo, surround, and subwoofer effects. The mix does a fantastic job of not letting the sounds overpower one another, as we can pick out distinct sounds from the front channels and the rear, while experiencing the bass rumble. The sounds coming from off-scene are nicely highlighted on this track.

All of the extra features for 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi are found on the second Blu-ray Disc in the set. Author Mitchell Zuckoff takes us through "For the Record: Finding the Truth Amid the Noise" (8 minutes) where he describes the political climate of Benghazi at the time of the attack. This includes footage of the actual compound and comments from the real "Tanto" and "Oz". "Uncovering Benghazi's Secret Soldiers" (28 minutes) introduces us to the real-life soldiers and we watch them tour the set and comment on the accuracy of the production design. We also hear from the actors who talk about what it was like to portray these people. "Preparing for Battle: Behind the Scenes of 13 Hours" (26 minutes) is a detailed, but fairly standard "making of" featurette which contains an abundance of on-set footage, as well as comments from the actors. We get specific details on the re-creation of the military action and how Bay shot the film. "Operation: 13 Hours Premiere" (3 minutes) shows how the film was shown in the football stadium in Dallas. "In Memoriam" (3 minutes) is a reel which shows photos of those who died during the attacks.

Review Copyright 2016 by Mike Long