Sunday 17 November 2019
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13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi – Movie Review by Anne Brodie

Directed by Michael Bay

Written by Chuck Hogan (screenplay), Mitchell Zuckoff (book)

Starring John Krasinski, Pablo Schreiber

Rating 3/5

Michael Bay tones it down in this powerful look at the moment by moment events of Sept. 11, 2012, in Benghazi, Libya when a US government installation and a covert CIA base were attacked by local “protesters”.  Many accounts of the events – which resulted in the demonising of Hillary Clinton for failing to send help – have been published and many theories have been put forth.

But until Mitchell Zuckoff’s book about the unfolding events based on statements from the private contractors, former American NAVY Seals, who fought the terrorists, there has been no firsthand account made public.

Michael Bay’s lightning paced dramatic re-enactment is based on those statements. And much of it beggars belief. For example, when the Americans –Ambassador Chris Stevens and his staff, soldiers and private contractors – sent for help from home, as well as Italy, Turkey and countries located hard by Libya, none was offered.

The US Chief of Staff in Benghazi refused to put the private soldiers into the game to the immediate peril of the entire American contingent. And yet they were the only ones on site to do the job. Eventually the soldiers disobeyed and went in.

We follow them hour by hour in a seemingly impossible situation, vastly outnumbered by locals in what was a well-planned uprising.  Reports at the time called the local fighters “protesters” but as the soldiers later said there were no protests, just wave after wave of attacks by organised militia.

I’ve never particularly cared for Michael Bay’s overzealous, flag waving and turgid dramas, but this is an exception. It bears his hallmarks – intense action, explosions, gunfire and melodrama, but its restrained, at least compared to the rest.

Pearl Harbour, Armageddon and the flag waving Transformers series were pretty Gothic. But I believe he realises Benghazi is still a fresh wound with international and American repercussions. And you don’t mess with that.

I interviewed Pablo Schreiber (Liev’s step brother and a Canadian) and asked if he learn politics things he shouldn’t have, what did he feel in his heart was the reason no help came, etc. and he deflected them all, returning to the events of the night and the men’s stories.  I believe that came from an explicit wish by the filmmakers to use restraint so as not to stir up trouble especially during the American primaries.

All these things make add to the viewing experience.  Many questions are answered for a public kept out of the loop for three years. 

The film highlights the contributions and sacrifices of the private armies of security people who work in the Middle East in exceptionally dangerous circumstances.  They’re highly trained and emotionally prepared to do what they do, but they’re just folks like us, who when they’re at home are hardworking insurance adjustors and real estate agents.  On the job they are highly paid and worth every sou.

When no one else and no other military organisations made themselves available to rescue the Americans, these guys came in and gave their all.  The reasons why international forces didn’t respond may be due to anti-American feeling, but why did the US fail its people?

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