‘I’ ON CULTURE
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is a pretty good action movie. Its politics are a bit more suspect. If it was presented solely as a war film, it would get far better reviews from many of my politically correct brethren. But after a relatively slow setup for about the first half hour, the action keeps coming and does not stop until the end.
Based on a book of the same name, this is the story of CIA security contractors working in Libya to provide protection for American diplomats. The men involved (there are just about no women in the film, no love interests, to get in the way of nonstop action) are combat veterans and experts. They have been hired by the State Department to provide protection for its diplomats. Director Michael Bay does a great job of setting the mood: The men become quite paranoid in a city where anyone (and perhaps almost everyone) might be out to kill them or their charges.
When violence breaks out at the nearby consulate, they quickly get ready to go there and fight. We see the men, waiting and anxious, begging to go. They are not sent. Or, at least, not until it is too late. The battle scenes are ferocious, among the best of their kind. The views of the men waiting for action become particularly uncomfortable; we have gotten used to seeing “the cavalry” sent to the rescue, and here they merely wait, although they have a large battle at their location, where they protect several dozen others.
I dislike seeing reviewers put their personal politics in the way of movie (or any other cultural form) ratings. In this case, it is clear that some of the critics have not even seen the movie. Hilary Clinton is not in the film, nor is Barack Obama. Yet I have seen reviews that seem to imply that they are there, plotting to destroy the diplomats. That never happens in the film and almost certainly did not happen in reality.
There seems little doubt that the contractors, the ones who wrote the book this film is based on, believe that security was wildly undermanned in Libya, where there was constant violence. And the contractors did not get a go-ahead order until it was far too late (although it seems obvious that the two dead diplomats probably would have died anyway). The contractors are shocked to hear about the “rioting because of a video” excuse given since there were no riots.
It is getting harder to separate political fallout from cultural evaluations these days, and that is a shame. One major critic called it the movie “no one wanted.” Along the way, the critic spends more time critiquing critics of Libya policy than very much about the film itself.
There are some actors and writers whose politics I dislike. And there have been more than a few movies that are critical of those who are conservative. When story lines are over-simplified or just plain wrong, that seldom gets noticed.
The Big Short, a very good movie that has gotten a bit lost in the huge end-of-year movie deluge, so oversimplifies the financial dealings of Wall Street in 2008 that in terms of economics it is muddled. But it is a really good film. Trumbo whitewashes a man who was an apologist for both Hitler and Stalin, supporting their censorship of atrocities, while focusing on how unfairly the man was treated here. Conservative critics were all over the errors, but that is a very small group.
Films should be judged on how good they are, on how good the moviegoing experience is for the audience. I don’t care for the politics of either Mel Gibson or Sean Penn, yet I judge the films as entertainment. More critics need to do so.
I apologize for leaving the subject of the film itself. It works on a small-scale level as a good action film, one that does hold your attention all the way through. If you can forget the politics, it works well within its genre. If you cannot, well, you will have to decide whether it will reinforce or abuse your beliefs. It is not a great movie, and certainly it is not very satisfying since it details a failure. But it is interesting and might help at least some people get some idea of what is going on in Libya.