Wednesday, January 27, 2016

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi Review

I'm catching up on some of the January releases I missed and what a better place to start than our annual January war drama? Two years ago we were graced with the presence of Lone Survivor which I thought was absolutely fantastic. Then we got American Sniper last year which most people went crazy over. I, on the other hand, didn't really care for it. It had its moments, but overall was a disappointment for me. When I first saw the trailer for 13 Hours, I started out very intrigued. Then they dropped this line halfway through: "directed by Michael Bay." My heart literally sank. Michael Bay is easily one of my least favorite directors in Hollywood. I no longer had any faith in the movie, especially since Michael Bay's previous two attempts at making a movie based on a true story were cinematic disasters. Pearl Harbor and Pain & Gain? Seriously? Despite all of that bad history, though, rumblings of "Michael Bay's best movie" started following this movie upon and suddenly I became intrigued again. Could he actually a give us a decent movie? The answer is yes. I don't want to give him too much credit as this isn't amazing. But it's a decent effort by him.

13 Hours touches on subject matter that I personally am not too familiar with. It's also super recent stuff. As in September of 2012. Just over three years ago. This blog existed when the events of this movie were taking place. Usually they wait 10 or 15 years at least before doing a major movie on current events. But not this time. And that seems to be the trend recently as stories I remember hearing about on the news not too long ago are getting movies. I don't really know what I think about that, but okay. This here is about the war over there in the Middle East that's still going on. I should keep up with that stuff more than I actually do. But oh well. Thus when I went in, I was ready for a bit of a history lesson. Tell me about Libya, Michael Bay! Because that's where we are. Benghazi, Lybia. On September 11, 2012, an American diplomatic compound was attacked, killing U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. This led to quite the chaotic night for a group of soldiers. That's the night that this movie is about. 13 hours of chaos on the night before they are scheduled to go home to their families.

The movie is titled 13 Hours because that's how many hours these soldiers spent in chaos that night. However, I'm half tempted to instead believe that the movie is named after the amount of time it feels like you spend watching this movie because it is LONG. It's true that 144 minutes is not out of the ordinary for a movie like this. In fact, some are much longer, but this one lacks a certain focus that makes it feel super long. Think of some of Michael Bay's other movies. Like the Transformers movies. Half of the problem with those movies is that they could literally be an hour shorter, but Michael Bay is so obsessed with all of his explosions that he does nearly three hours of explosions because he just can't help himself. If the Transformers movies were only like 100 minutes or so, then they might actually be decent because that would require them to be a lot more focused and precise instead of just hours of mindless firework explosions. Don't get me wrong, 13 Hours is much better than the Transformers movies, but the same principles apply. The movie needed to be at least 20-30 minutes shorter because for much of the run time it's just a whole bunch of almost mindless war scenes. I didn't know what was going on. The story was kinda confusing. Just bombs, gunfire, explosions, soldiers running everywhere. Just unfocused war scenes.

I got the feeling that Michael Bay just couldn't help himself. It's as if he listened to all the criticism he's had over years and years of making horrible movies and decided to attempt to make a good movie this time around. And it mostly works. But he couldn't help himself. He had to include a lot of his typical Michael-Bay-isms. An overly long movie with too many action sequences. Unrealistic firework explosions. Soldiers running in slow motion. Attempted humor at the wrong time that kill the suspense. Weird camera angles, specifically camera angles where the camera is really low and angled upwards that give us the feeling that we are laying on the ground watching these super tall soldiers. And product placement. All of Michael Bay's movies have to have product placement. The Transformers movies are loaded with them. This one doesn't have nearly as much, but once again, Michael Bay couldn't help himself. I get the need for product placement, but it can be done well and it can be done poorly. This is the latter. Like there are scenes where the movie is super suspenseful, but then the suspense is completely ruined because suddenly you realize that you are in a Mercedes Benz commercial instead of a movie.

All of this was really frustrating to me because I knew there was a great movie hidden amidst all of these Michael-Bay-isms. I get that the man is trying to redeem himself, but ultimately I wish this movie was done by a different director. I think we would've had a great movie, because Michael Bay has to have his stamp on the movie. Yes, this is better than the Transformers movies. And yes, this is much, much better than his other two movies that are based on a true story. I mean, his first attempt at that he turned the events of Pearl Harbor into long, drawn-out love story with a few Pearl Harbor scenes thrown in. His second attempt, he turned a rather horrible and disturbing crime drama into a really offensive comedy. Pearl Harbor and Pain & Gain. Bad movies. In fact, is 13 Hours Michael Bay's best movie? I guess. But best Michael Bay movie is like asking which pile of dog crap you'd rather step in. In this instance, the movie is like walking through the grass thinking you're going to step in a pile of dog crap, but then checking your shoe afterwards and realizing that you didn't. It's not an experience to write home about, but at least you didn't step in a pile of dog crap. 13 Hours wasn't a great movie. But at least I didn't feel like I was being punished with my sentence being me forced to watch Transformers: Age of Extinction all the way through.

But yes, as this being Michael Bay's best movie, or at least the best movie he's made this millennium, there are some things to praise about this. Namely the last act of this movie is really good. The first two-thirds of this movie I found boring, confusing, way too shaky (I almost got dizzy in a few scenes), and stuffed with enough Michael-Bay-isms to annoy me. But holy cow was the ending of the movie great. The suspense was at an all-time high. These men are just trapped on the tops of these buildings trying to fend off the attacks and simply hoping that they make it through the night. When the attacks come, you are on the edge of your seat, biting your nails, hoping that they make it. When the downtime arrives, it's even more suspenseful because you are thinking that at any given second another attack could happen. And of course it's at these moments where you get your strong feelings of patriotism where you are super grateful for these men for putting their lives on the line as they defend our country. Even if the battle they are fighting is useless. You're still grateful. And by that I mean this is where the slight political agenda comes in. It's not a bad thing. They are just trying to be honest in stating that the United States came in with intentions of establishing democracy, but it blew up in our faces, leaving everything in complete chaos, making you wonder if we should've stayed out of it in the first place.

I also can't leave this review without mentioning the acting. Everyone does a phenomenal job. Yet the standout performer is definitely John Krasinski. He's a genuinely likable guy and a fantastic comedian, known best for his role as Jim in The Office. He has had several supporting roles in various movies throughout his career that I have enjoyed, but I've honestly never seen him like this. I always love it when a comedic actor can take a dramatic role and knock it out of the park. That's definitely what happens here and thus I can honestly say that this is John Krasinski's best performance of his career. If Bradley Cooper can get an Oscar nomination for his role in American Sniper, John Krasinski deserves one for this movie. The problem here is that this is a January release. By the time next year's Oscar nominations come around, the old geezers in the Academy will have forgotten this movie exists. Yes, American Sniper came out around the same time, but it was officially released in four theaters at the end of December 2014, making it eligible for last year's Oscars. 13 Hours didn't do that, so it'll be forgotten in a year from now. Plus, the Academy has a man-crush on Bradley Cooper right now. He gets nominated for everything. I'm surprised they didn't include him this year. The point of all this is that John Krasinski gives an Oscar-worthy performance, which definitely helps carry the movie.

Overall this is not a bad movie. It's curious that they decided to do this so soon. I'm wondering what the soldiers involved in the actual events think of this movie as it has to be fresh on their minds still. In the hands of another director who is used to doing war dramas, this would've been great. As is, Michael Bay got his hands on this, and although he did a worthy job, he just couldn't help himself. He had to put his annoying stamps on the movie, which makes this a very average-at-best movie for the first two acts. I was bored, confused, and annoyed for most of the movie. It wasn't horrible, but I saw the potential the movie had and was sad that it was being ruined by a bad director. But then the third and final act came around and I was totally glued in and on the edge of my seat. I almost completely forgot about my complaints from the first two acts and I almost completely forgot that this was a Michael Bay movie. It was super intense, super suspenseful, and super emotional. Had the whole movie gone down like the ending went down, this would've been one of the best war dramas I've seen, especially since John Krasinski gives the best performance of his career in an Oscar-worthy performance. But as is, I have to give a grade to the movie as a whole and that comes in as a slightly above average movie. My grade for 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is a 7.5/10.

No comments:

Post a Comment