Depending upon your preferred news source, the word “Benghazi” has come to symbolize either a witch hunt or an act of near treason.
Throughout his career, Michael Bay has demonstrated roughly the same disregard for politics he’s shown for subtlety, long moments of contemplative silence and strong female role models.
Which is why, with “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” and for possibly the only time in his career, Bay is quite possibly the perfect director for a project.
At least until someone greenlights “Explosion: The Movie.”
Chronicling the 2012 assaults on a U.S. diplomatic outpost and a temporary CIA base in the Libyan city, “13 Hours” is pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a Michael Bay movie about the attacks: It’s long, loud and offers no deeper understanding of what transpired, nor really any understanding at all.
Focusing on the six former military operatives protecting the CIA officers as part of the agency’s Global Response Staff, the movie makes the most of its unconventional casting. Raise your hand if, when thinking about these heroic private contractors, you would have guessed a third of them would be played by actors from “The Office.”
Our first glimpse of them comes as Jack Silva (John Krasinski) flies into the Benghazi airport, where a burned-out jetliner rests near the bullet-riddled terminal. He’s met by his old friend Tyrone “Rone” Woods (James Badge Dale), who’s constantly feuding with the local CIA station chief known only as Bob (David Costabile).
“We’re spies. You’re security guards,” Bob tells them. “You guys bunk here, but you’re not CIA. You’re hired help.”
Jack is just there for an eight-week tour because he can’t make any money in the faltering real estate market back home. But the motivations for Rone and the others — Dave “Boon” Benton (Krasinski’s “Office” co-star David Denman), Kris “Tanto” Paronto (Pablo Schreiber), Mark “Oz” Geist (Max Martini) and John “Tig” Tiegen (Dominic Fumusa) — remain as vague as their characters.
Some five weeks into Jack’s rotation, Ambassador Christopher Stevens (Matt Letscher) visits Benghazi, despite the armed militias and the open-air markets that sell everything from assault rifles to rockets where the produce and scarves should be.
Tasked with protecting Stevens, the contractors immediately notice the lack of security and other vulnerabilities at the nine-acre compound where he’ll be staying. But, as Diplomatic Security agent David Ubben (Demetrius Grosse) notes, “Uncle Sam’s on a budget right now.”
That’s about as damning as “13 Hours” gets. The name “Hillary Clinton” is never spoken. Most of what transpires over those 13 hours is chalked up to bureaucracy and a perfect storm of obstacles and mishaps.
On Sept. 11, the ambassador has agreed to stay indoors because of security concerns tied to the anniversary. So Rone and his team are a mile away at the CIA base, a once-private walled compound next to a slaughterhouse, spending their day off playing video games, watching “Tropic Thunder” and calling their families. They aren’t around later that night when the ambassador is ambushed by locals.
“None of you have to go,” Rone tells his men as they watch flames spread throughout that nearby compound. “But we are the only help they have.”
Their courage, though, is hampered by Bob, who patiently waits for authorization and for a friendly militia to wage the battle for them. Once they eventually leave over Bob’s objections, the gunfire rages, at both compounds and in the streets, throughout the remainder of the movie.
Written by Chuck Hogan (FX’s “The Strain”), based on Mitchell Zuckoff’s book of the same name, “13 Hours” is little more than a straight-up action movie. It’s no coincidence that it’s being released on the same weekend that, in 2015, saw “American Sniper” open to a staggering $89 million. But while it celebrates American heroes, “13 Hours” is not that movie. It isn’t even close.
But so much of “13 Hours” takes place in the dark with the actors trapped beneath helmets, night-vision goggles and beards of varying degrees of unkemptness. Then there’s the soot from the fires set to smoke out the ambassador and the general grime of warfare. Aside from Tanto, who entered the fray wearing khaki shorts, it’s difficult to tell who is who throughout much of the action.
That makes “13 Hours” very nearly as murky and confusing as what really happened during those 13 hours.
Contact Christopher Lawrence at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @life_onthecouch