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13 Hours' Honors Heroes, Ignores Politics


This film is a heartfelt tribute to the fallen, who may still be here today had they not been stymied by bureaucracy.

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**The following is an in-depth review of “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” and does contain spoilers.**

J. Christopher Stevens. Sean Smith. Glen Doherty. Tyrone S. Woods.

Those are the names of the four Americans who were killed between Sept. 11 and 12, 2012 during the terrorist attack on both the U.S. consulate and a secret CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya. Three of the private security contractors who were there, and are depicted in the film, were advisors to director Michael Bay during production of the film and have attested to its historical accuracy.

The film starts by briefly recapping the 2011 Libyan civil war, which saw the overthrow of Col. Muammar Gaddafi from power. The overthrow of Gaddafi directly lead to the creation of the terrorist militias that would go on to organize, coordinate and carry out the attacks in Benghazi.


The first character the film introduces is Jack Silva - not his real name - a private security contractor attached to the CIA annex in Benghazi. The film follows Jack for several days in Benghazi, on routine intelligence-gathering missions as well as at the annex.

While there is a fairly tense scene near the beginning - when Silva arrives in country - and a couple of car chases during the information-gathering operations, the first act is mostly fairly mundane. It consists mostly of the guys hanging around the annex doing what military guys do and showed them making several video-chat calls home. This slow start to the film is actually a brilliant filmmaking technique by Bay.

As in real-life, when the attack on the consulate begins it comes out of nowhere. The film takes a hard right turn, as real life did for those involved, and becomes very chaotic very fast. This plays in stark contrast with the slow first act, making it almost seem as though you've wandered into a different movie. It gives the viewer a sense of surrealism similar to how soldiers feel in combat. A sense that what is going on around you isn't real at all.

Bay employs multiple shaky-cam techniques and puts the audience square in the middle of the action.

The CIA security force is enjoying a slow evening at the annex when they begin to hear the gunfire coming from outside. The consulate was only a mile from the annex, and they could literally see a lot of what was going on from their windows. It didn't take long before calls for help from the consulate began to come through the communications systems.

Within a matter of minutes, the security team was geared up and ready to render assistance to the consulate, however the deputy chief (unnamed in the film for security reasons) won't allow them to move out. The deputy chief is seen to be in constant communication with Washington, and tells the security team several times to stand down; that this isn't their job.

After hearing call after call for help come over the radios, Tyrone Woods - commander of the annex security team - takes it upon himself to give the order for his men to move out against the orders of the deputy chief. It is never said in the film whether the order to stand down had come directly from Washington, or if the deputy chief had taken it upon himself not to allow the team to move on the calls for help immediately.

The movie actually takes great care not to address what is going on stateside at all during the attack. Instead, it is a factual account of the events as told by the men who were there on the ground, and this is the only information used to construct the narrative.

While it is annoying that the film does not directly point fingers at Washington, any finger-pointing would have been speculation and the film seemed to be mostly concerned with just delivering the facts as those on the ground knew them. Bay and the entire film crew deserves a certain amount of respect for having the integrity not to speculate one way or the other.

After the rescue of the consulate - unfortunately too late to save Ambassador Stevens or Sean Smith - the annex is subsequently attacked, and this was where the majority of the fighting was done.

Another private security team, led by Glen Doherty, is en route from Tripoli but is held up waiting for transportation and again at the airport in Benghazi. The Tripoli team arrived in the thick of a mortar attack on the compound and quickly jumped into the fight. There were individuals on that team, however, who were more concerned with retrieving sensitive information than in helping to hold off the attack.

As coordinated and determined as the attacks on the embassy and the annex were, it is a testament to the men of those security teams that only four Americans were lost during the attacks. While the film does not directly direct blame at the administration or former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the film does not shy away from the completely inadequate security conditions in Benghazi. It is even mentioned in dialogue that if there were an attack on the consulate "Five guys with M-4s isn't going to cut it," and that everyone in the consulate would die. It was only the heart and determination of the soldiers on the ground that prevented that from happening.

The last shot of the film is of the CIA memorial wall. The shot pans in from a wide to a very tight on the last two stars on the wall. As the camera focuses on the wall's newest stars, the words "For Glen and Tyrone" appear on the screen. This is the moment in the film where your eyes get a little moist.

"13 Hours" isn't just an attempt by those who were there to tell the complete and factual story. It is also a heartfelt tribute to the fallen, who may still be here today had they not been stymied by bureaucracy.

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