Saturday, April 21, 2018
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Review: '13 Hours' stays mostly out of the Benghazi political fray

"Benghazi" is a city's name that is now an attack command, siccing Hillary Clinton's opponents upon her.

Their venting might be better focused on director Michael Bay, whose 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi purees a political hot potato. Bay is only in it for the bang, which means bucks. This is a movie with a bolder agenda possible than its maker wishes to pursue. Partisanship can cut a crowd in half.

Instead, 13 Hours is another flag-wrapped paean to true-life Alamo heroism in the vein of Lone Survivor, hoping for ticket sales like American Sniper. Neither of those movies carry the political burden of 13 Hours, and Bay isn't one to channel it.

13 Hours focuses on six former U.S. Marines or Navy SEALs hired as a security force for a covert CIA compound in Benghazi, not far from the embassy. Generally they're family men needing jobs in 2012's economy, falling back on what they're trained to do. Easy guys to cheer.

The Office star John Krasinski is the movie's most recognizable actor, playing Jack Silva (one of two pseudonyms used), a former SEAL returning to duty. He's reunited with Tyrone "Rone" Woods (James Badge Dale) and four other comrades in arms who'll get their moments in Bay's movie, just not as many.

Screenwriter Chuck Hogan, working from Mitchell Zuckoff's book, provides these characters with about as much depth as Bay's Transformers heroes. Any concerns about lax security and slow government responses — the roots of accusation against then-Secretary of State Clinton — get lost in the walkie-talkie jargon and drown-out gunfire. Even location titles pass too fast to sink in.

The mayhem is tame by Bay's standards, although an R rating does allow his bloodier instincts to emerge. Whether it's metallic robots or flesh-and-bone. Bay still pulls too close to the action for eye comfort. At times you can't tell who's who unless they're dead.

Although he mostly stays above the political fray, Bay's populist nature occasionally strikes a grassroots-angry tone. As an invasion of the embassy approaches, the threat is downplayed by a CIA supervisor (David Costabile) preferring the path of least resistance to retirement.

His assertion that "the best minds from Harvard and Yale" have things under control will draw snorts from viewers conditioned to think higher education is a sign of weakness. They'll prefer Bay's next images, of a sweaty warriors' workout, dressed like 300 extras and dragging tractor tires. Diplomas are for sissies. 13 Hours isn't for them.

Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

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