"What difference does it make?!"
-Secretary Of State Hillary Clinton sitting before Congress on Benghazi-
It's stunning to think someone could so brazenly utter such words with complete indifference given four Americans died in foreign soil at the hands of Islamic militants. Never mind a sitting Secretary of State. It's unconscionable and incredible really when you stop and consider it. Apart from US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and Foreign Service Information Officer Sean Smith there were two former Navy Seals turned CIA contractors, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, working as the secret soldiers of Benghazi, the subject of 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi (2016).
In full disclosure, Michael Bay's Transformers films are not something I enjoy or would even qualify as science fiction. I suppose it's the science fiction snob in me, but they are terrible. Suffice it to say I was stunned by how much I enjoyed 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi (2016). This is, for all intents and purposes, a true story and it's important to note Hillary Clinton is never mentioned. Politics are left off the table. The subtext of what happened is there, but the viewer is left to draw their own conclusions. Despite it's relatively painful association to recent events, this is simply a portrayal of heroism. This is as much a story of bravery as Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down (2001), Peter Berg's Lone Survivor (2013) or Randall Wallace's We Were Soldiers (2002). This is a story about men against unspeakable odds.
The film makes every effort to portray a day in the life of a group of American patriots, former military men turned contractors, under siege in a volatile area overrun by Islamic militants. It paints the picture of their actions that day in Benghazi to protect the men and women at two CIA outposts in Libya, their fellow Americans and simply survive, but not before choosing to put their lives in peril to save others. Their actions are purely defensive in nature and the horrors that day are incalculable.
The inaction of the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton linger like a weight, a pall, a malaise throughout the film and yet Bay refrains from anything overtly political in his film despite the sensitivity of the subject matter.
Why were we there? One simple reason, as a nation we were making every effort to recapture the weapons amassed by the dictatorship of Momar Quaddaffi from making their way into the black market and ultimately being put to use against Americans and others by terrorists and other organizations. It's unfortunate that often noble intentions are constantly called into question. And yet, American foreign policy and influence in the world has shrunk and diminished and our standing globally greatly reduced as a result. Agree or not, this is the reality.
To call Benghazi mission a dangerous hornet's nest of an effort is nothing short of an understatement. This is a horrible place filled with considerable evil. Your hearts bleed for those who live under terrorist oppression. But this film is a remarkable tribute to the soldiers for hire in Benghazi.
The film was a genuinely immersive experience. Characters are much stronger than I anticipated for a Bay film. The aforementioned war films are among some of my favorite films from the war genre in recent memory, and 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi would easily stake a claim in the Top 10 of those films to my amazement.
As this writer witnessed the film I found myself physically recoiling and involved in the horrors of war. This film is relatively free of political siding, though it is clear these American men and women were completely on their own which speaks volumes to those on their watch governing.
Perhaps the biggest issue a student of film might have is Bay's handling of the actual direction of the film. Ridley Scott is a gifted visual auteur in every department. Bay, on the other hand, like so many of his films, can sometimes create a visual that feels ham-fisted or poorly executed, but more often than not 13 Hours is a graphic, gritty, almost documentary-like style and approach to ground combat and the film is harrowingly depicted throughout its entirety. Alternating between segments of hardcore combat and aspects of the lives of these heroic men who are ordinary Americans is a stunning juxtaposition to the realities of their situation and surroundings. This is disturbing stuff.
You can't imagine being in such an environment. What these men and women endured is nothing short of the pure fog of war and yet they braved it with tremendous courage. 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi is a tremendous, powerful tribute to these men.
This film experience, like Alejandro Gonzalaez Inarritu's The Revenant (2016), had a more lasting, profound effect on me. There was indeed a moving impact here unlike recent escapist fare like Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015).
Freedom of expression is a gift in America, but it disturbs me to hear writers, commentators, political figures, etc. beat commentaries and speeches that are seemingly anti-American by nature in their disdain for their own country. But if that is how the country is perceived by them they have the right, protected by those who fight for us, to speak their minds. They would not be able to do the same in many parts of the world.
America isn't perfect. That's a given. But spend two visceral hours in Bay's adaptation of the events surrounding Benghazi with 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi and you will likely be grateful for the good fortunes bestowed upon us under Lady Liberty. If not, that's unfortunate, because the film should at least give you pause.
With the New Hampshire primaries upon us it will be curious if such issues make a difference for the likes of Hillary Clinton going forward. In a clear-thinking, rational world of action and consequence it should. And with Bernie Sanders surging she just may find that out.