13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi movie review (2016) | Roger Ebert (2024)


13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi movie review (2016) | Roger Ebert (1)

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With “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” Michael Bay hasdone for the attack on Benghazi and those who fought and died there what he didfor the attack on Pearl Harbor in “Pearl Harbor”—reduce the seriousness of theevent and the sacrifices made into another exercise of the kindof slick, soulless excess that is virtually indistinguishable, bothstylistically and dramatically, from the rest of his filmography.

Based on the best-selling account by Mitchell Zuckoff (with theparticipation of five of the survivors of the attack), the film begins asformer Navy SEAL Jack Silva (John Krasinski) arrives in Benghazi to work as aprivate consultant on the security detail for a CIA outpost alongside oldfriend Tyrone “Rone” Woods (James Badge Dale). The job isn’t ideal—Benghazi isone of the most dangerous places in the world; he is separated from his wifeand young daughters; and all the official CIA people that he is working under,especially outpost chief Bob (David Costabile), are constantly reminding allthe security guys that they are the ones doing the important work. Itbrings in more money than staying at home and working as a real estate agent.


In early September 2012, U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens (MattLetscher) arrives and insists on staying at the diplomatic compound during hisvisit. While inspecting the premises before the arrival of Ambassador Stevens,Silva, Rone and their fellow security consultants realize instantly thatthe protection it offers is completely inadequate. They're further appalled whenthey see that a once-secret meeting has been made into a public affair, alertingeveryone in the dangerously unstable region to the presence of Stevens.Nevertheless, the CIA guys and the security patrol at the diplomatic compoundpoo-poo their warnings and insist that they have everything under control.

On September 11, the compound, with Stevens inside, is attackedby a heavily-armed mob that quickly storms the building and even sets it on firein an attempt to smoke the ambassador out. From their vantage point at the CIAoutpost a mile or so away, Silva, Rone and four other security men on hand—Kris“Tanto” Paronto (Pablo Schreiber), Dave “Boon” Benton (David Denman), John“Tig” Tiegan (Dominic Fumusa) and Mark “Oz” Geist (Max Martini)—can see what isgoing down and are prepared to rush over and assist, but the main CIAguy gives them a direct order to stand down. He continues to repeat that orderuntil the six of them decide to defy it and head out to the compound withoutauthorization. Although they fend off waves of attackers and manage to pull acouple of people out, they are unable to find Stevens in the burning buildingbefore returning to their base. It is then that the CIA base becomes the newfocus of attack and the guys, along with a handful of others, are forced tosingle-handedly defend the compound and those inside while calls for airsupport are ignored and a potential rescue force is stuck on the tarmac inTripoli mired in red tape.

In the hands of the right filmmaker, a film about Benghazi mighthave yielded something like Ridley Scott's “Black Hawk Down,” another chronicle of a missionin an unstable land that went horribly wrong. Scott’s film chronicledthe horrors of what happened, the heroism of those that fought and the combinationof mistakes, misjudgments and plain bad luck that occurred along the way. Alas,Michael Bay has never been known as a director with any sense of nuance, andinstead recounts the story in the broadest manner imaginable. The screenplay byChuck Hogan is about as simplistic and simple-minded as can be—our six heroesare near-gods who can do no wrong while the government operatives on displayare cartoonishly dumb, obnoxious and blinkered in their thinking. When he wantsviewers to recognize what drives our heroes to put themselves in harm’s way, henot only has one of them read aloud from Joseph Campbell’s “The Power of Myth”but repeats that moment as a flashback towards the end—which is also pretty muchthe extent of the character development as well. Frankly, the best writing inthe film is featured in a clip from “Tropic Thunder” that is shown andconsidering what that movie is about—a group of actors going off to film a warstory that proves to be not quite as accurate as advertised—its inclusion comesacross as either the sickest joke imaginable or a weird bit of meta-commentarythat somehow got slipped into the mix.


As for Bay, he treats the material in much the same manner for everything else—like a hyper-violent video game featuring lots of dazzleand precious little else. Thinking back to “Black Hawk Down,” you will recallhow brilliantly Scott evoked the confusion of what happened whilestill laying everything out in a manner and allowing viewers to follow alongand find order in the chaos. “13 Hours” evokes plenty of confusion, but it isless the fog of war and more the fog of a filmmaker who seems incapable offollowing the basic rules of film grammar when needed. One could argue that Bayis trying for a “you are there” approach that plunges viewers into the mayhemand keeps them as much in the dark as the character were but he just doesn’thave the skills to pull it off. Utilizing his familiar arsenal of rapid edits,slow-motion and showy special effects (including a bit following a mortar as itdescends from the skies to hit its target that appears to be Bay’s homage to asimilar shot in his own “Pearl Harbor”), he does everything he can to get animmediate reaction (including a bit in which the American flag ismachine-gunned in slow-motion that feels like the longest sustained shot in thefilm) but neglects to give viewers anything else to grasp onto that could givethem any understanding of what happened. As bad as the action is, the allegedlycharacter-driven bits are even worse—a scene in which Silva gets some news fromhis wife and kids over a video chat while the family is at a McDonald’sdrive-thru is so badly handled in every possible way that it makes the scene inBay’s “Armageddon” with Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler and some animal crackers seempositively subtle by comparison.

Simply put, “13 Hours” is a pretty dreadful movie and whilewatching it, I sat there trying to figure out what kind of audience mightactually go for it. Those of the liberal persuasion will write it off becauseit presents elements that have been highly disputed or flat-out denied (such asthe stand-down orders) as unquestioned fact. Conservatives may be upset that itdoesn’t go far enough in tying Hillary Clinton to the events depicted—unless Imissed it, she is never once mentioned specifically. As an action movie and asa historical document, it is a bombastic and wholly inauthentic mess thatdisplays precious little interest in the men whose actions and sacrifices itpurports to honor. There is a good and interesting movie out there to be madeabout the tragic events at Benghazi and the political aftermath but “13 Hours”is definitely not it.

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Film Credits

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi movie review (2016) | Roger Ebert (9)

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016)

Rated Rfor strong combat violence throughout, bloody images, and language.

144 minutes


John Krasinskias Jack

James Badge Daleas Rone

Pablo Schreiberas Tanto

David Denmanas Boon

Dominic Fumusaas Tig

Max Martinias Oz

Toby Stephensas Glen 'Bub' Doherty

David Costabileas The Chief

Elektra Anastasias CIA Agent

Alexia Barlieras Sona Jillani


  • Michael Bay


  • Chuck Hogan

Writer (novel "13 Hours")

  • Mitchell Zuckoff


  • Dion Beebe


  • Pietro Scalia
  • Calvin Wimmer


  • Lorne Balfe

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13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi movie review (2016) | Roger Ebert (2024)


13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi movie review (2016) | Roger Ebert? ›

With “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is a 2016 American biographical action-thriller film, directed and produced by Michael Bay. Written by Chuck Hogan, it is based on Mitchell Zuckoff's 2014 book.
https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › 13_Hours:_The_Secret_Soldi...
,” Michael Bay has done for the attack on Benghazi and those who fought and died there what he did for the attack on Pearl Harbor in “Pearl Harbor”—reduce the seriousness of the event and the sacrifices made into another exercise of the kind of slick, soulless excess that ...

Is 13 Soldiers Based on a true story? ›

The Benghazi Attack In 2012 Explained

Though 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is a fictionalized account, the 2012 attack on two United States facilities in Libya did actually happen.

What country was 13 Hours filmed in? ›

Malta served as the primary filming location, providing a convincing stand-in for Benghazi with its similar Mediterranean landscape. Key Maltese sites in Mosta, Valletta, Marsa, Kordin, Gzira and Floriana were used to create the dramatic action sequences showcasing Malta's versatility as a film location.

Is the movie 13 Hours on Netflix? ›

Watch 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi | Netflix.

Is 13 Hours a political movie? ›

What Paramount only pretends not to have known all along is that, of course, “13 Hours” is political, even if it isn't explicitly partisan. Despite its dog-whistle marketing, the content of the film might disappoint the most rabid Hillary haters.

How many Americans died at Benghazi? ›

A decade has passed since terrorists led a mob that attacked American diplomatic compounds in Benghazi, Libya. This senseless attack killed four Americans who were defending the United States' consulate. U.S. Ambassador J.

How accurate is 13 hours secret soldiers of Benghazi? ›

The film's historical accuracy has been disputed. In the film's most controversial scene, the CIA chief in Benghazi (identified only as "Bob") tells the military contractors there when they seek permission to go defend the embassy to "stand down" and thus denies them permission.

What happened to the secret soldiers of Benghazi? ›

By dawn, Stevens was pronounced dead from smoke inhalation. Former Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods and former Marine Glenn Dougherty were both killed in action. But the team managed to rescue about 30 other workers. The State Department later admitted the Benghazi outpost was "woefully" under secured.

Was Jack Silva a real person? ›


Jack Silva is a former US Navy SEAL appearing in the 2016 film 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, from which he serves as the protagonist. He is portrayed by John Krasinski.

Is 13 Hours worth watching? ›

It's no doubt Bay's most reverent and mature work, but still has quite a few action cliches among other things you'd expect from a movie of his. Despite all this, 13 Hours is a solid watch. It's no Black Hawk Down or Saving Private Ryan in as far as war films go, but it's certainly brtter than the Transformers sequels.

What does 17 Feb mean in 13 hours? ›

17 Martyrs Brigade militia, referred to as “Feb 17” in the film, whom the U.S. called on for assistance during the attacks). The film rightly honors them.

What happened to Oz from 13 hours? ›

Geist finished his career as a security contractor in Benghazi, Libya, where he was credited with helping to save the lives of more than 25 Americans. Mr. Geist is still recovering from the injuries he sustained in the battle.

Who was Tig in 13 hours? ›

Dominic Fumusa: John 'Tig' Tiegen

Jump to: Photos (13)

Why did 13 Hours flop? ›

And while 13 Hours isn't the first movie to be sold somewhat under-the-table to political conservatives and religious evangelicals, there was no getting around the nature of this film as something that would, by default, appeal to those embracing a certain narrative that was perhaps distasteful to other demographics.

Who is the villain in 13 Hours? ›

The primary "villain" in this latter dynamic is the CIA's base chief, known only as Bob and portrayed by a chubby, balding David Costabile.

Why was Benghazi so controversial? ›

The first major point of contention was whether the violence was a premeditated terror attack or a spontaneous response to an American-made video mocking Islam, as some in the Obama administration initially claimed and top officials, such as then-Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, repeated in talking points approved by ...

Is The 13th Warrior Based on a true story? ›

The 13th Warrior is a 1999 American historical fiction action film based on Michael Crichton's 1976 novel Eaters of the Dead, which is a loose adaptation of the tale of Beowulf combined with Ahmad ibn Fadlan's historical account of the Volga Vikings.

What is the true story of Benghazi? ›

On September 11, 2012, at 9:40 p.m. local time, members of Ansar al-Sharia attacked the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi resulting in the deaths of both United States Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and U.S. Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith.

How many survivors of Benghazi? ›

More than 20 lives were saved, though, thanks to Kris “Tanto” Paronto, Mark “Oz” Geist, John “Tig” Tiegen, and the rest of the CIA annex security team who fought off the attackers for over 13 hours.


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