Grade A

On the anniversary of the September 11, terrorist attacks against the U.S., hundreds of terrorists attack two American installations in Libya.  One installation is a compound that houses a U.S. Ambassador his few, lightly armed guards; the other installation is a “secret” CIA base that has 6 heavily armed contractors — highly trained mercenaries with previous lives in the U.S. military — as the primary defense of the spies who work there.

The first attack is against the U.S. Ambassador’s compound.  Despite numerous calls for help from the CIA base, help is not authorized.  The compound is quickly overrun, and the Ambassador’s life is in serious jeopardy as the terrorists burn the building that he and his few guards are in.  Defying orders to stand down, the leader of the mercenaries (played by James Badge Dale) takes his men to rescue the Americans under attack just a few thousand feet from where they are.

By the time Dale and his mercs arrive, it is complete chaos.  Dozens of Libyans are walking/running around, fully armed.  No one knows who is a terrorist, an ally, or just some citizen walking around with a gun for protection.  That the mercenaries didn’t shoot any Libyan they saw with a weapon is a testament to their discipline, courage, and professionalism.  With the Ambassador’s compound destroyed and the Ambassador missing, the mercs leave with whatever survivors they can find and fight their way back to the CIA base.  And the long night has just started.

Throughout the night, the terrorists will attack the CIA base repeatedly, and the 6 American mercenaries/contractors will take the lead in heroically defending their “home” and the dozens of civilians who work there.   But as the fight rages on, ammunition gets low, defenders get wounded, and extreme exhaustion sets in.  CIA personnel desperately make one call after another to U.S. military forces, as well as U.S. allies, but only a handful arrive.  Without more substantial help, the Americans and their few Libyan allies will eventually be overrun and killed.  Why the might of U.S. military power was not brought down to crush the terrorist attacks is still not completely known.  Some reasons are given in this movie, but many questions remain, as they still do today.

One of my memorable moments of “13 Hours” is the scene near the beginning of the movie when Dale and another merc who happens to be a close friend are surrounded by dozens of terrorists.  Dale makes a bluff that a drone is above them, watching everyone and taking pictures of all involved.  If the terrorists attack, the Americans will find the terrorists and their families, and justice and vengeance will quickly follow.  After a few seconds that probably felt like years to the Americans, the terrorists lets them go.  This highly tense scene is a prelude to the rest of the movie, setting the tone and giving the audience a taste of what the next two hours will bring.

My most memorable, movie moment of “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi” is the scene when mercenary Mark “Oz” Geist is badly wounded, his left arm mangled.  He staggers into the building where the CIA civilians are huddled and asks for help for another soldier, instead of for himself.  This man’s courage and selflessness is unreal.

There are many who fault director Michael Bay’s talents.  I was never one of them.  Bay is a master of directing movies to maximize drama, intensity and fast pacing.  His talents once again shows in “13 Hours…”  He wisely chose not to put too much politics in the movie, as that would have bogged down the pacing and steered the focus away from the American fighters who sacrificed so much.

Of course, this is an action film, meant to entertain, first and foremost.  On that front, it succeeds.  Secondly, “13 Hours…” is meant to tell the world of the bravery of the few men who fought, suffered and died saving the lives of dozens of Americans.  On that objective, the movie also succeeds.  I suggest every American watch this movie.  It not only entertains, it teaches about an infamous event that should not have happened.

— M