The name Michael Bay has become synonymous with vacuous garbage. Reading through the reaction to the recent Call of Duty trailer, people were climbing over each other to try and come up with the best insult, and more than a few used Michael Bay as their reference to throw muck at the video game trailer. Loud, dumb, CGI ‘splosions, dude bro-ism and needless shaking camerawork. I do recall some good stuff from Michael Bay though, The Rock (1996) is a fine movie, so I had quiet hopes for this one. It’s his best movie in 20 years.
I don’t really want to get in to the political controversy surrounding Benghazi and I’m glad that Bay hasn’t here, either. This is a movie about the soldiers. So from their perspective, we see them in Libya in 2012, a failed state succumbing to Islamic nuttery, with the walls closing in on the de-facto U.S. Embassy there, an attack is launched, a senator is targeted and a group of private military contractors, James Badge Dale and John Kransinki among them, must stave off a relentless attack on the compound overnight.
The real life incident was a complex mess. There were actually two compounds – and this was shown in the movie, with the contractors moving to and fro between them. Adding to the confusion were ‘friendlies’, local militias who were anything but friendly, but others were friendly. One of the big problems with this movie is that it’s hard to follow and I’m guessing that’s probably worse for people who have never heard of this incident. Bay doesn’t do a good job ironing out this story for a typical viewer.
However, it’s a battle movie at heart and being placed under siege and fired upon is a universal language. For the most part, the kinetic message is clear, the guys are in deep shit. I’m going to give Michael Bay kudos for his directing on this one, there is a marked decrease in pointless shaking cameras and a flashy, glamorous style to the thing without losing a sense of brutality. It’s a looker and it often has atmosphere to spare. I do though think the movie was a bit too long and should not have gone past the two hour mark, the last half hour is kind of drawn out and repetitive.
The whole Blu-Ray/1080p image thing has been bedded in for a while now, especially on the eve of 4k saturation. Blu-Ray just doesn’t rise below or above a certain standard that much these days. However, the transfer for 13 Hours is remarkably clean, it’s sharp without looking ‘digital’ and natural without looking waxy. It’s actually the best transfer I’ve seen in a while and Bay’s near masterful use of lighting only helps set an atmosphere. Great presence, with Malta (filling in for Libya) looking quite stunning. There are satisfactory documentaries included as well.
I recommend checking out ‘For the Record: Finding the Truth Amid the Noise’ as a primer for the main movie before you watch it since the situation and story are somewhat convoluted. This eight minute documentary gives insight to the actual ambush and key players involved. Following that and the movie there are two YouTube-sized bite features then two larger half hour extras which speak to the real survivors, and the other getting a behind the scenes look at the making of process with director Michael Bay.
So then, after forgettable stuff like Pain & Gain and a resume of CGI rubble movies, this is somewhat of a return to form for Michael Bay. More serious stuff with easier camera work like this, please…