Review of '13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi'

In my article where I detail the different stages of war films throughout the years, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi firmly occupies the most recent category "The War on Terror, Part 2: The Patriotic Phase."  Which is to say, it has come after "The War on Terror, Part1," which mostly consisted of films questioning the reasons for the Iraq War, and spotlighting American torture and other misdeeds.

 The films to be released in the first years of the War on Terror were political in that they modeled the Vietnam movies of the 1970s and 1980s, emphasizing the horrors of war, and the lies that were told about weapons of mass destruction; these films failed at the box office.

Instead 13 Hours follows in the footsteps of Lone Survivor and American Sniper, putting politics and moral judgments to the side and simply steeping the audience in the action (American Sniper did have messages regarding PTSD, but it avoided judgments about the war, itself.)  As with Blackhawk Down years earlier, this is a film that stirs patriotism simply by showing American courage and derring-do in the face of adversity.

The plot, for those that don't know, is based on the real life incident in Benghazi, Libya.  A small American diplomatic outpost is overrun by militants and the American ambassador is killed.  A small group of private contractors, all former Special Forces, race the clock to try to save those inside the compound from being killed.

 Much action and gunfire ensues.  This is a Michael Bey film and that means slow-motion shots of action, and lots of American flags flapping in the wind.

These sorts of films are peculiar anthropological artifacts:  They're not mindless dumb action war movies in the way of a 1980s action film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger; they aspire to realistic drama.

 Yet the films themselves, however sober they may be played are still a form of propaganda:  Showing combat as a visceral victorious thrill complete with a swelling orchestra and a world of viewers appreciating these final moments of heroism; I talk all about this in my war film rules.  It's movies like this that inspired me to join the infantry, I wanted to be able to live what the characters on-screen were doing, I too wanted a horrible awful day in a combat zone somewhere around the world.

As a film, I enjoyed it - but then I get a big thrill out of watching visceral competently constructed on-screen combat.  There's no heavy handed preaching in this film, just two hours of action scenes, and for what it is, it's effective.  It also follows in my favorite genre traditions of the war film, to include "The Rescue" and the "Final Stand."

I predict this film will be a huge hit - not just because of the name recognition behind it - but also because it's opening in the January time slot where in the two previous years, both American Sniper and Lone Survivor did huge business.