Michael Bay, like Rodney Dangerfield, don’t get no respect. Despite his movies raking in nearly six billion dollars worldwide, he is often dismissed as the man responsible for the cartoonish Transformers franchise and the legendary debacle that is Pearl Harbor. But with the just-released 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, Bay has transcended himself with an emotionally wrenching but inspirational action movie that honors the brotherhood of warriors and American heroism.
The movie is based on the true story 13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi by writer Mitchell Zuckoff and the security team who were present at Ground Zero of the Islamist attack in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012. That attack resulted in the deaths of four Americans, and the movie has been greatly anticipated by political conservatives as the film that will put the nail in the coffin of candidate Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, over her alleged inaction as Secretary of State during the assault, and the subsequent cover-up.
But like the book itself, the movie is apolitical. Hillary, mentioned barely at all in the book, is completely absent in the film. The focus is the firsthand experience of the warriors at the center of the storm – “when bullets flew, buildings burned, and mortars rained,” as Zuckoff writes. Brothers-in-arms Jack Silva, Tyrone Woods, D.B. Benton, Mark Geist, John Tiegen, and Kris Paronto – all former Navy SEALS or Marines – had no direct knowledge of the politics in the background that abandoned them to their fate; they knew only that it was up to them to stave off enemy forces swarming the diplomatic compound in which they, a handful of State Department civilians, and Ambassador Chris Stevens – ultimately one of the four casualties – were holed up.
Bay told Fox News, “The politics got in the way of this great human story that happened, and this is really to honor these type of men that do this every day — that put themselves in harm’s way — that’s what this movie is about.” He continued:
“I’ve been friends with many, many SEALs, and they’re an extraordinary group of people. They’re very selfless, and this is a very tragic story. It avoids the politics. It gives you the facts, but in the end of the day it’s an inspirational story.”
While it avoids an overt political statement, it nevertheless serves as a clear indictment of a political class that is often unappreciative of those selfless men of action who willingly put themselves in harm’s way. That class is represented in the movie by the CIA station chief, a by-the-book bureaucrat dripping with contempt for the security team’s absence of diplomatic tact and lack of Ivy League credentials. He is repulsed by their hyper-masculine physicality and ever-present weaponry.
But when things get real, and the outpost is overrun by Islamists who care nothing for diplomacy or an Ivy League education, the station chief is paralyzed by his inability to grasp the life-or-death nature of the emergency. Tyrone Woods takes the wheel: “You’re not giving orders anymore, you’re taking them,” Woods tells him. “You’re in my world now.”
That world is the arena of violence and action, not diplomacy and politics. It is an atavistic, uncivilized realm in which heroes thrive. One is reminded of the familiar adage, not quite correctly attributed to George Orwell, that people sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf. Or of the military drama A Few Good Men, in which Jack Nicholson’s hardcore Colonel Jessup barks that “We live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns.” The warriors in 13 Hours were the rough men with guns in Benghazi.
But they are not mere action flick caricatures. Director Bay effectively brings these men to life, drawing us into their personal lives as fathers and husbands eager to reunite with their families but compelled to stay in Godforsaken hellholes, because that’s where heroes are needed. Bay also captures the emotional toll it takes on those extraordinary men to fight from dusk to dawn, all the while only a bullet away from leaving their kids to be raised by another man, as Woods puts it.
These men accept that toll because they value service over self. They are the sheepdogs protecting their flock from the wolves. In the movie, when Woods reminds his crew that they are not obligated to risk their lives by rushing in where angels fear to tread, not a man among them hesitates to commit. Heroism is the ultimate altruism. By the end of the movie, the humbled CIA station chief confesses to Jack Silva (played by a buffed-up John Krasinski, better-known as The Office’s goofy romantic Jim Halpert), “I’m proud to know Americans like you.”
13 Hours is the latest in a line of recent films –Lone Survivor, Act of Valor, American Sniper – which prove that, after a string of anti-war flicks that portrayed our soldiers as PTSD-addled victims, Hollywood has a renewed respect for American heroes. But some reviewers will have contempt for the values on display in the movie. They will roll their eyes over its lack of “nuance” and its pro-Americanism. They will dismiss it for its perceived political subtext. Those reviewers sadly will miss the point that heroes like Silva, Woods, Benton, Geist, Tiegen, and Paronto are a breed apart, and because of rough men like them, the rest of us can sleep easier.
From Acculturated, 1/22/16