13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi ***

Grounded in reality rather than visual effects, Michael Bay’s latest works as a tense action drama.

Is it worth $10? Yes

With director Michael Bay, we’ve come to expect the absurd. His movies – a quartet of “Transformers” headaches, “Armageddon,” “Bad Boys,” etc. – are often over-the-top blockbusters with excessive visual effects, inane stories and wooden acting that cash in on the appeal of spectacle rather than the integrity of good storytelling.

One senses he’s trying to change that perception, at least slightly, with “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” about the six ex-military operatives who hunkered down to protect the U.S. Consulate and a secret CIA base in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012. There’s certainly action throughout, but it’s done in a way that feels gritty and real rather than gaudy and lavish. It’s still shot in Bay’s sweeping camera, rapidly edited and hyper-stylized bravura, but the lack of excess visual effects allows the story and characters to remain grounded and realistic. Go figure: Michael Bay uses restraint, and his movie is better because of it. 

Libya was a war zone in 2012, and the men hired to protect the U.S. Consulate and CIA base in Benghazi (which are about a mile apart) are essentially highly trained security guards: three were Marines, two were Navy Seals, and the other was an Army Ranger. They are: Jack (John Krasinski), squad leader Rone (James Badge Dale), Tanto (Pablo Schreiber, “Orange is the New Black”), Boon (David Denman), Tig (Dominic Fumusa) and Oz (Max Martini). With U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens (Matt Letscher) in town, militant radicals storm the consulate, which was unprepared for an attack. At great risk to themselves the soldiers lead the fight against the insurgents before help arrives, which inexplicably takes a long time. Why there was so little action on the part of nearby forces is never fully explained, but should have been.

Another shortcoming in Chuck Hogan’s script (based on a book by Mitchell Zuckoff): We’re reminded too often that the men miss their families back home. We get it. The movie is 144 minutes, but easily could’ve been 139 min. if Bay cut out all the scenes of tough guys talking about their kids.

Krasinski (“The Office”) does well in a dramatic action role, ceding the funny lines to Schreiber, who’s amusing and an effective warrior. The rest of the cast is strong as well, but be warned of the violence: Toward the end there are some unexpected images that are grisly to the point of discomfort. The good news is the film earns these moments by escalating the danger as the 13-hour standoff wears on.

Bay is cautious to steer clear of political points, choosing instead to focus on the humanity involved. Indeed, it’s not often that you see mothers and sisters and wives of dead bad guys grieving over their lost loved ones, but you do here in what forms Bay’s larger message: That war, killing, violence and hatred are awful and unfortunate and should not be. Jack echoes similar sentiments, as do the other soldiers. Heck, how could any reasonable person not agree with that?

You’ll leave “13 Hours” having been engaged by the story, entertained by the action and in thought about the brave men who showed a strong, resilient spirit while saving the lives of nearly 40 people. They’re real American heroes, and the movie tells their story well.

Did you know?
Images and updates on the major figures involved in the story are provided prior to the end credits.

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