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Arts and Entertainment

Michael Bay's Benghazi Thriller '13 Hours' Has First-Rate Action

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Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are never mentioned by name in 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, Michael Bay's film about the attack which has been affectionally dubbed "Bayghazi" by practically everyone, but Bay's assertion that it is an "apolitical" film is bunk. Bureaucratic desk jockeys and bureaucracy are the enemy in 13 Hours as much as the Libyan militias that attacked the American consulate (and ultimately killed Ambassador Chris Stevens), and American in-action is admonished while Bay lays on his admiration of the gung-ho, know-how mercenaries who save the day.

Once 13 Hours does get into the action, it is a rather effective, sometimes stunning, piece of combat filmmaking from one of film's best craftsmen. Wedged smack dab in the middle of the film is the initial assault by the militias on Stevens' compound, where Bay stages what might be the best action sequence he's ever done. The so-called "secret soldiers" of the film's silly subtitle—whose ranks include The Office's John Krasinski and David Denman—move and shoot with ruthless and surgical precision. Each bullet and piece of flying shrapnel rattles and ricochets with such a heightened sense of realism that you can practically see the dust shake off the screen. Rocket-propelled grenades bounce off the pavement before exploding and brick walls crumble into dust under a barrage of machine gun fire—the wanton destruction of stationary objects is even scarier than seeing what they do to bodies.

Bay is often criticized for his spectacular style that often turns the movie screen into an illegible mess. His rapid edits and swooping, restless camera (see the much-reviled Transformer series) are toned down in 13 Hours—he lets the chaos tell the story for itself. The work of cinematographer Dion Beebe, who pioneered digital cinematography in Michael Mann's Miami Vice and Collateral, can be downright beautiful. The yellow and orange of explosions and flames become abstracted figures over the backdrop of a deep blue Libyan night.

Of course there's the rest of the movie, which is where Bay always comes up a little short. He loves the men he's lionizing as heroes so much that they become mere ciphers, each one serving as signposts of an ideal—duty, family, country, or God. Once the fighting stops (and boy, does it stop), these soldiers have to talk, and none of them are compelling as characters.

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An individual viewer's takeaway will likely depend on which side of the aisle they sit on. Did you catch Ted Cruz's plug for the movie last night? But at least for a solid 45 minutes, there's something for everyone to marvel at in the middle of 13 Hours.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi opens everywhere today.

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