A look at ’13 Hours’ and Benghazi

There were times during “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” that the film felt as long as the hours that the contracters in the CIA Annex had to protect it from attackers in Libya.


Last summer when I first saw a trailer for the film “13 Hours” directed by Michael Bay, I thought, “Uh-Oh. The politics awake.” Any film dealing with the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others in Benghazi would probably end up involving the politics of the House Benghazi committee and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Then I saw the film was opening in January, a notorious dumping ground for unpopular films. Hmm. Was someone is underplaying it? Or was it too hot to handle?

So, after the great blizzard of D.C., I took an afternoon off from cabin fever and went to see the film.

It’s entertaining. Visually stunning. Realistically portrayed in the “Black Hawk Down” style. You are introduced to all the characters but soon they all look similar – bearded, intense, sweaty, muscular and very competent at their jobs.

The narrative is constructed for dramatic intensity, not absolute accuracy. For example, the Benghazi CIA base chief has already protested his portrayal. I will leave it to Ann Hornaday’s ‘13 Hours,’ Benghazi and the slippery definition of ‘political’ from the Washington Post.

Politics aside, the film’s 2 hours and 24 minutes of action can feel long. First the pre-attack dangers of Benghazi and the foreigners’ interaction with the Libyans are shown. Then comes the attack, or rather, several attacks – the one at the diplomatic complex, then the secret CIA annex.  Confusion breaks out with lots of gunfire, mortar and sniper fire. Who is on their side?

The Americans contractors don’t know who to trust. While they’re supposed to be working with the February 17th Brigade, it’s clear, as it’s said several times, they can’t tell the difference.

Now, let me state upfront that I like Michael Bay films. I don’t spend a lot of time analyzing them for accuracy (“Transformers” anyone?).Even at the most absurd, his films are beautifully done. The visuals are stunning. For example, “Pearl Harbor.”

But even watching “13 Hours,” I wondered as to the accuracy of the film. When I was  at McClatchy Newspapers DC bureau, I worked with their correspondent, Nancy Youssef, (now at The Daily Beast) and her editor, Mark Seibel, on Benghazi stories. Youssef was one of the first reporters into Benghazi after the attack. I would love to read her take on “13 Hours.”

I suspect the film will vanish in into DVD remainder bins within the year. It’s a pity because if you undrape the politics around it, “13 Hours” is an entertaining bang-bang flick with decent acting and lovely visuals.

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