I went into “13 Hours” fearful I was about to watch a piece of rightwing propaganda designed to make Hillary look bad, but the movie is largely free of politics and just cruddy for different reasons. Perhaps this is why rightwingers who made “American Sniper” and “Lone Survivor” such big hits largely avoided this trip to the Middle East…
What Works: Where “Sniper” and “Survivor” were built around a singular big star (Bradley Cooper, Mark Wahlberg), “Hours” sticks closer to the “Black Hawk Down” method of casting a bunch of up-and-coming actors (“Down” had everyone from Eric Bana to Tom Hardy in a small role) who might one day be bigger than they are now like John Krasinski, Max Martini, Pablo Schreiber, David Giuntoli, and Breaking Bad’s great David Constabile. Rubicon’s James Badge Dale is particularly effective and perhaps destined for bigger things.
What Doesn’t: To say this is one of the least preposterous Michael Bay movies ever made is both accurate and still leaves room to acknowledge that there are dozens of moments you’ll likely roll your eyes at. The movie seems designed to defend military contractors and make the CIA look weak, ineffective, and stupid. Of course, the record may put that perspective in reverse when you see the litany of military contractor scandals coming out of the Middle East (from overcharging to shoddy work to some of them killing civilians for fun in Iraq).
And then the larger point of “Why make this movie in the first place?” The film hits us over the head with how heroic and noble these guys are—towards the end they grouse at the kudos the military will receive but fail to mention they’re paid 3 or 4 times as much—but you might be a bit surprised to see that only four people died in this incident, which is actually a good day in the Middle East. The much-publicized killing of Ambassador Christopher Stevens is off-camera and shockingly anti-climactic. [GOP media coverage makes it seem like he was damn near beheaded to a packed stadium rather than dying of smoke inhalation because his security detail lost him in an on-fire compound.] And the few scenes showing him before that don’t exactly make him look non-naive.
What I Would Have Done Differently: The best film of Michael Bay’s career is still “Pain and Gain” because it has a real sense of humor that most of his films since “The Rock” haven’t had. “13 Hours” is a different mode for him—serious and steeped in faux-prestige—and it’s actually a pretty awkward fit. He just can’t resist his more populist base instincts, and the style he directs this with isn’t really any different than “Bad Boys” or “Con Air” or “The Rock.”