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'13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi'

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Flawed film features solid action, questionable accuracy

There are few filmmakers in Hollywood who are as commercially successful and as critically reviled as Michael Bay. His over-the-top explosion-laden aesthetic has proven to be extremely popular at the box office, much to the chagrin of just about anyone who actually cares about movies as an art form.

However, it should be noted that Bay has occasionally managed to transcend his inherent schlocky dudebro-ness and create something more. And I do mean occasionally I can think of two, the most recent being 2013's 'Pain & Gain.' Make no mistake these offerings are still very much Michael Bay movies. They just have a less 'lowest common denominator' vibe than his usual fare.

One could argue that his latest effort '13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi' might warrant inclusion on that list; the film, while not without its share of real flaws, certainly offers something more than the usual big dumb Bay business. It's based on the true story of the men tasked with protecting Americans in Libya during the immediate aftermath of the 2012 attacks in Benghazi.

Jack Silva (John Krasinski, 'Aloha') is a private contractor hired to work as part of a security team for a covert CIA base in Benghazi. Recruited by his old friend Tyrone (James Badge Dale, 'The Walk'), he soon meets the other members of the G.R.S. team, all of them former members of elite military units live-wire Tanto (Pablo Schreiber, TV's 'Orange is the New Black'); smartass Tig (Dominic Fumusa, TV's 'Nurse Jackie'); grizzled Oz (Max Martini, 'Fifty Shades of Grey'); and thoughtful Boon (David Denman, 'The Gift').

The team is tasked with general protection of CIA operatives, but there's no denying that Benghazi is a powderkeg packed with warring factions and burning hot with anti-American sentiment. Circumstances find Jack and company working with the State Department in an effort to integrate new U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens (Matt Letscher, 'Day Out of Days') safely.

But when the powderkeg finally explodes, the attack on the diplomatic compound is swift and merciless. The G.R.S. guys are the only ones with any hope of protecting the Americans from the compound and the CIA annex from the heavily-armed Libyans who seek to destroy them.

Let's be clear as far as historical docudramas go, '13 Hours' makes for a decent action movie, but not much more than that. The caveats that accompany any 'based on a true story' film apply even more than usual here; Bay isn't one to let the facts get in the way of his fetishized explosions. Bay has always had a knack for portraying the kinetic violence of your standard action blockbuster. He's at his best when guns are firing and bombs are going off; anything more than that tends to be out of his reach.

Still, even if one leaves aside the (numerous) questions regarding factual veracity, there's no arguing that Bay has at least aimed slightly higher in terms of his audience expectations. Granted, that just means that he's not targeting 14-year-old boys, but hey it's something. I'll admit to expecting a good deal more overt jingoism with this film particularly since going that route has led to some pretty solid box office returns in the recent past. And those moments are most assuredly there the infallibility of the G.R.S. guys, the cravenness of the non-soldiers, the general sense that every non-American is either evil or ineffectual they just aren't quite as frequent as I anticipated.

In terms of performances, well they matter slightly more here than they usually do in a Michael Bay production. Krasinski seems an odd choice for a role like this one, but his innate likeability actually works for him here; Jack is our way in, allowing us to empathize with the plight of the G.R.S. operatives. The rest of the crew is pretty solid as well, though with the exception of Dale and Denman, they all seem pretty interchangeable.

(This is where I note that this film is the first time that Krasinski and Denman have worked together since they were both vying for Pam Beasley's affections at the Scranton branch of Dunder-Mifflin.)

In short, '13 Hours' is a better movie than you might think; checking your personal politics at the door will aid in your enjoyment. It has plenty of issues not least some factual questions but it's a decent action offering. So long as you don't go in expecting historical accuracy, you'll be OK.

[3 out of 5]

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