Friday 18 March 2016

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi ... Baying for blood

A WAR film with tonnes of action is a perfect match for director Michael Bay's shaky camera and
non-stop editing style. Astute viewers know that Bay's editing is akin to someone having chilli flakes in his underwear; he just can't sit still.
   American war films (for example, Black Hawk Down and Lone Survivor) put outnumbered but brave and heavily-armed American troops in foreign conflicts and show that the soldiers, who have sweet families waiting for them at home, can beat the hell out of baying Muslim rebels.

  We know war films glorify American soldiers and their bravado, showing them making the best out of tight situations and blowing their attackers' heads off.
    American war films show black- or brown-skinned people putting mostly white Americans under siege, which makes it more acceptable for the latter to put the former out of their misery, and for daring to take the battle to the most powerful nation in the world.
  I found 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi similar to Lone Survivor. The early part shows the strong camaraderie between the bearded soldiers, who in the their downtime have video calls with their families in the US.
   A military operator in 13 Hours asks his wife whether they should cut down a tree in front of their home. A soldier in Lone Survivor contemplates paint colour samples sent his wife.
   The soldiers are soon under attack by Muslim rebels, but their training allows them to ward off the attackers, even though all seems hopeless at one stage. We don't know whether the directors of both films exaggerated the number of attackers.
  Another similarity is that both films are based on books; 13 Hours is based on Boston journalist Mitchell Zuckoff's book.
   One difference is that 13 Hours can be considered the first war film that has soldiers going abroad only because they couldn't get jobs in the US to support their families. Jack Silva (John Krasinski), the presumptive hero of the film, takes on this job in Libya because he wasn't doing well as a real estate agent.
   Bay's film reproduces the chaos of Libyan militias attacking the US diplomatic outpost in Benghazi on Sept 11, 2012. Ambassador Chris Stevens, played by Matt Lescher, died from smoke inhalation during the attack. The militias then turned their attention on a covert CIA centre a mile from the outpost.
  Bay's film blames an anti-Islamic film for causing restlessness among locals, who vent their frustrations on the Americans. But a mortar attack on the CIA centre late in the film leads one US military operator to conclude that those devices had been brought to the city weeks before the attack.
   Libya in 2012 was in turmoil after the capture and killing of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Militias raided Gaddafi's armories.
  Six ex-military men protect the CIA centre; their job includes escorting embassy staff to meetings in the middle of town, which naturally draws the attention of locals. The centre's chief is called "Bob" (David Costabile of TV's Suits), who's keen on avoiding problems with locals and drawing attention to his covert unit.
  He says: "I don't need a misunderstanding (with locals) ... Stay out of the Harvard people's (embassy staff) way."
  Bob is a stickler for rules and doesn't tolerate unprofessionalism. He raps military operator Tanto for dozing off during the ambassador's briefing, not realising that Tanto had not had much sleep. His gruff demeanor, overweight body and whiny voice make him an easy target for viewers to detest.
   Bay's film blames Bob for not calling for help sooner when the outpost was attacked. When a military operator urges him to send them to help the ambassador at the outpost, he says: "We are not supposed to be here ... You are the last resort .. You will wait."
  Later, he says: "You are not cleared to go."
 And because of the secretive nature of the centre, the army will not send in helicopter gunships or air support to help the besieged centre.
  This forces the six military operators to take control of the centre and exhibit their prowess in defeating Muslim militiamen. Don't the militiamen know that they're no match for the sharpshooting skills of American military operators? They're like the baddies on American TV shows: they can't shoot straight and they're easy targets for the "good" guys.
  There's an inevitable pause in the middle of the fighting. Jack says: "What would my two daughters say? Why can't I go home and stay there?"
  His buddy replies: "Warriors are not trained to retire."
  Bay does an expert job in showing the dangers the ex-soldiers face in protecting those who didn't appreciate their work. The two haughty embassy staff can't stand the sight of the operators, although a cute blonde comes to understand their stress.
  Bay follows the cue of other war films in showing the soldier's soft sides, that is, showing them speaking to their families, and speaking to other men about their families.
  He directs the war scenes competently, although the camera work and editing may get on your nerves.
  But even though Jack says at the end that he gets to go home and leave this mess behind, viewers will feel distant from these tough guys.
   The film's last shot of a bullet-riddled US flag floating in a debris-filled pool speaks of Bay's condemnation of US reticence in helping their fellow Americans.

2 out of 5 stars


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