13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI A NEW CLASSIC FILM OF MODERN WARFARE
I usually avoid doing any reviews about movies chronicling the War on Terror since I’m right in the middle of it (and most of them suck). I’m too close to the subject matter for any sort of objectivity but this review isn’t going to be objective. It’s going to be pure emotion and stream of consciousness.
Before I begin though a few housekeeping details but even before that I need to address the giant elephant standing in the corner namely the politics of Benghazi. In Michael Bay’s excellent movie there really aren’t any. Lady Macbeth Clinton isn’t even mentioned. Emperor Barry First of his name, is referenced I think once about being briefed on the situation. Also there is some sort of 2 second voice over thing which might have been a snippet from a speech by Dear Emperor. That’s really it. The rest is taken from the book 13 Hours by Mitchell Zuckoff who interviewed many of the principals involved in the actual situation. See this movie isn’t about the politics or the “optics” of Benghazi it’s about FIGHTING MEN, warriors all, who did what is right and did their jobs in a spectacular manner.
Housekeeping wise what I’m going to do is list the the actors roles broken down by contractor/CIA/State Department. Then I will delve into the attack on the Consulate and then the CIA Annex and the magnificent fight put up by these contractor warriors. Lastly I will be plumbing my thoughts on the movie.
Global Response Staff (GRS) – The GRS are contractors that provide security, surveillance/counter-surveillance for CIA facilities and personnel around the world.
Jack Silva: Former US Navy SEAL played by John Krasinski. Jesus Lord was this guy good. Who knew that Jim Halpert from The Office had this range? Krasinski’s depth was impressive, his physical transformation amazing and I absolutely believed he was a highly competent operator.
Tyrone “Rone” Woods: Former US Navy SEAL and Security team leader played by the ever reliable James Badge Dale who by now can play these sorts of roles in his sleep.
Kris “Tonto” Paronto: Former US Army RANGER. Played by Pablo Schrieber who is fast becoming one of my favorite actors. Dude rocked it hard. Tonto was probably the alpha Aries of the team, he reminded me of friends from my RANGER days.
Dave “Boon” Benton: Former UNITED STATES MARINE the cerebral sniper played by Dave Denman who was also in The Office with Krasinski. He’s another guy that’s reliable in any role.
Glen “Bub” Doherty: Former US Navy SEAL, regional head of the GRS who led the relief mission made up of himself, 2 DELTA FORCE operators and some CIA members. Bub is played by the great Toby Stephens. He’s all right for a ginger.
John “Tig” Tiegen: former US MARINE played by Dominic Fumusa.
Mark ‘Oz” Geist: Former US MARINE played by Max Martini.
CIA Station Members
Station Chief “Bob”: Per CIA rules we don’t know his real name. Chief is played by the excellent David Constabile who once again turns in a note perfect performance.
Sona Jillani: American born French raised CIA operative.
CIA Interpreter Amahl: Played by Peyman Moaadi.
There are a bunch of other red shirts whose names/jobs I don’t remember.
Ambassador Chris Stevens: A true blue believer played by Matt Letscher.
Diplomatic Security Officer (DSO are the State Department’s version of GRS) Dave Ubben played by Demetrius Grosse.
DS Scott Wickland played by David Giuntoli.
Sean Smith US Foreign Service Office IT guy played by Christopher Dingli.
There are three other DS members but they’re just placeholders.
The movie starts off with some text explaining what has happened in Libya and what the situation is on the ground. That situation isn’t good and is deteriorating. There are numerous well armed militias fighting it out. They are well armed because they raided Khadafi’s massive arms depots all around Libya. All this info is important for later. We first meet Jack Silva flying into Libya, five weeks before Benghazi and getting picked up by Rone. There’s some backstory/plot service happens and then we’re off and running. We’re thrown into a chaotic situation where we see how competent Jack and Rone are. This first situation also highlights the difference between the GRS operators and the bureaucratic nature of the CIA and especially Chief Bob who is just trying to ride the situation out until he retires. Next we do the typical meet and greet for the team and move on to some small set pieces to show how competent the guys are. There the table is set for the main course and that’s an elegant five star meal.
The Attack on the Consulate
Just before the GRS team is set to rotate home, the new Ambassador to Libya decides to visit the satellite consulate in Benghazi which is about 600 miles (644km) from Tripoli. With him are a team of DSOs that don’t know the area, aren’t familiar with the players and really don’t seem to have a lot of previous military experience. In short they’re pretty useless. The six members of GRS are tasked with helping with the Ambassador’s (hence force “ambo” or “package”) security. As we’ve seen during the course of the movie prior to the September 11th attack, the various bad guys have been conducting surveillance and recon on the diplomatic compound. Recon is the backbone of any operation and it’s something that will hamper the rescue efforts of the GRS operators during their relief mission later on. Unlike the BS spun out by the media and the government, the attack on the compound wasn’t a “spontaneous” uprising because of some over-a-year-old YouTube video but a well co-ordinated attack on American soil that ended in the death of the US Ambassador.
As the attack unfolds, the GRS operators know they are the only strike force capable of reaching the compound in order to secure the package and relieve the DSO who aren’t faring very well against a force ten times their size. Unfortunately Chief Bob is standing in their way and won’t let them go on mission which to be fair is not in their job description. After about an hour of wrangling, for their sins, they get permission to go the mile up the road, amid a myriad of people who they don’t know whether they’re good guys or bad, to try and snatch the Ambo out the jaws of evil doers. Oh and by the way the evil doers have lit the compound on fire and the DSO have lost the package in the confusion.
This set piece is incredibly well staged. It’s tense, exciting and well shot. The confusion and harried thrown together nature of the operation is palpable. Plus there are some very funny moments and lines thrown out as the operators are trying to get into the compound. One thing that can be said about Bay is that he can frame shots and handle action really well. More so since there aren’t any “Bayisms” on display or giant robots hitting each other in this movie. This is by far the ‘straightest” movie Mike Bay has ever made. There are a few exceptions to that which I get into later. After getting the DSOs out, who had an adventure of their own getting back to the CIA Annex since they didn’t know the area, we arrive at the major part of the movie, the attack on the CIA Annex.
The Attack on the CIA Compound
As well staged, tense and exciting as relief operation of the Diplomatic compound was, the attack sequence on the CIA Annex was even better. Being that it was a siege type of situation we get to take a beat or two and get more time to absorb the situation compared to the wildly chaotic nature of the diplomatic compound. Here we see the skill, ferocity and tenacity of the GRS operators on full display. We also see more of their humanity and selfless natures also. We also see the ability of Station Chief Bob marshaling his people and putting them on a war footing. Bob may be a short timer bureaucratic CYA bitch but when the chips were down he stood tall.
The biggest issue the six members of the GRS face are the fact they don’t have near enough people to cover the perimeter. There are six of them, 4 DSOs, one injured pretty bad and a handful of station personnel with weapons training or prior service experience. The militia force that was supposed to provide security at the gates of the Annex and the diplomatic compound for the most part ran away and the local police were in cahoots with the bad guys. Facing them seems to be about half the population of Benghazi and they had a lot more explosives, RPGS and heavy weapons than the GRS operators had. What won the day for the warriors of GRS was their martial spirit, high speed training and shit ton of experience. The fighting MEN of the GRS were able to hold out for six hours, broke three waves of attacks and in the end evacuate all CIA personnel without losing a single one to death or major injury. Most importantly they recovered their dead. The GRS inflicted major damage on the evil doers, lots of bodies were left on the ground. Exact numbers unknown.
The Government/GRS rescue efforts of the CIA Annex
While the GRS staff in Benghazi were doing their supermen bit, there was considerable behind the scenes actions going on in trying to mount a rescue effort. Unfortunately it was all almost comically inept due to distance. There is this entity called Africa Command which has responsibility militarily for Africa but it doesn’t really have access to its own dedicated troops. Instead units at sea and on land, mostly in Italy, are assigned on paper to it and they have use of them “when needed”. However due to distance and the minimum amount of time involved it would take hours that the Benghazi Fighting MEN didn’t have to get them spooled up and on the ground. Also for some retarded reason Africa Command headquarters is in Germany. AC (Africa Command) got a Special Forces team on helos sitting in Croatia but too far away as a relief element. They also didn’t put the F-16 strike elements in the air nor did they launch any naval aircraft from the Carrier group in the region. Nope, all that was sent was one Drone to watch the situation from the sky. There is a whole lot of bullshit that went on here. I’m sorry but if I can call in airstrikes from carrier based aircraft that hits targets in eastern Afghanistan then fuck that, they can hit targets in Benghazi. Or as the point in the movie makes, just show a couple planes in a fly over and the 7th century worshiping evil doers will heel toe it the fuck out of there at least temporarily. The Islamist evildoers hate with a passion of 10,000 suns going supernova at the same time American air superiority. I am pretty sure that F-16s have the ability to attach exterior fuel tanks so that would allow for enough time to get KC 130 on station to help refuel the jets. So that one is a complete fabrication about not launching them due to the distance involved. In fairness though it must be pointed out that nobody knew about the CIA facility until after the Diplomatic compound fell.
In the midst of all this, bureaucratic horse shittery GRS leader Bub Doherty said, “Fuck this noise. I’m going after my men.” Doherty, who was some 600 miles away in Tripoli at the time made the CIA give him as much cash as they could come up with fast, commandeered a jet belonging to an Libyan oil executive paying the pilot 30Gs to fly him, 2 Delta Force operators and 5 GRS members into Benghazi to provide a relief column for the Annex. Also along and looking to get paid were the Militia forces that cut and ran in the first place.
Unfortunately for Bub there were two major issues facing his relief force. The first is he didn’t know the area and they got lost trying to find the compound. In fact in order to find the Annex, the GRS members inside had to go to infrared and “lasso” their position so Bub could get a fix on it with his NVGs. The second and larger hurdle Bub faced was the the fantastically corrupt and completely useless bureaucracy of Middle eastern and African countries. In fact those countries are so staggeringly inept and voraciously corrupt they make Washington DC, NYC, Detroit and Chicago look like high functioning paragons of incorruptibility, helpfulness and quality. Bub spent well over 2 hours at the airport wrangling with every functionary in a 50 mile radius with their hands out. Eventually Bub, his strike team and a heavily armed element of Militiamen made it to the Annex just as Soviet-made 81mm mortars were ranging their position. The arrival of Bub and his column is what forced the evildoers to stop their attack and run. Unfortunately for Bub and Rone though, they were killed by mortar rounds. Also badly injured during the mortar attack were DSO Dave Dubbing and GRS member Oz Geist. GRS operator Tig Tiegen suffered lesser wounds when he took a bullet to his vest earlier in the fighting. The rest of the team all suffered from minor cuts, bruises, sprains and damage you wrack up in the normal course of combat. Lost earlier at the Diplomatic compound was Ambassador Chris Stevens who died from smoke inhalation and IT officer Sean Smith who died from injuries sustained during the compound attack.
For all the bravery and skill the remaining GRS operators showed during the Annex siege, they were rewarded by being left behind. Yes, they had to stay at the Benghazi airport with the dead and the militia they couldn’t trust because they did not have enough planes to evacuate everybody at once. While the wounded (which should have priority), the CIA members, the Diplomatic staff and the Africa Command members got evaced, the heroic Spartans got the shaft. Getting fucked over is the lot of a FIGHTING MAN.
13 Hours was the first movie I’ve seen in a very long time that had any sort of effect on me. In fact at the end of the movie, when they were going over what happened to the participants, I teared up. I felt a pride and kinship with those men that stood tall when others wrote them off, castigated them and thought they were just stupid goons. They did that which was right, something all the Ivy League asshats couldn’t seem to do. To quote a lyric from a song “These are MEN America’s best”
I was also surprised by just how good of a movie Michael Bay made. Yes there was some schmaltzy family drama but those sorts of movies usually have that particular trope and the way it was integrated into the story wasn’t too egregious. Like I mentioned above, there weren’t any Bayisms in it. There was no back lit by the sun aircraft shot, no aircraft porn and with the exception of one tracking shot of an 81mm mortar hitting it’s target (seen it before in Pearl Harbor) no goofy crap that Bay usually relies on. Instead we got a thoughtful, mature movie about men who are driven to seek out the edge and excel in chaos. Michael Bay made a stupendously excellent movie that I cannot recommend enough.