When the trailer for 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi dropped, netizens were quick to dub it "Bayghazi," a portmanteau of the location of the now-infamous embassy attack and the name of director Michael Bay. But the film deserves more credit than that for a number of reasons, but mostly because it manages to celebrate the human elements of an otherwise overly-politicized event.
"We all think we know Benghazi," Bay says. "But we all only really know so much. There was a great human story in Benghazi that was never told. It's an inspirational movie, even though it's tragic."
The movie is a faithful retelling of the events on the ground during that day in the Libyan port city, as written in journalist Mitchell Zuckoff's book 13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi, which he co-authored with the surviving security contractors who were on the ground. The way Zuckoff writes the story in the book lends itself to Michael Bay's directing style.
"The book, when I read it, it was an amazing human experience," Michael Bay says. "It's my most realistic movie. I think it opens eyes to what they really go through. It's a collection of 36 Americans coming together, figuring out how the hell to survive. It starts at 9:42 and we follow the waves and the adrenaline and the ebbs and flows for 13 hours."
The movie is rife with commentary, damning of the military's failure to act in support of the CIA annex in any way. Fighter planes remain motionless on flightlines while bureaucrats make late night phones calls to plan meetings, but the movie is inspirational, thanks to its exceptional cast. With the help of the real military veterans-turned CIA security contractors who were on the ground in Benghazi that night, they all deliver exceptional performances.
"There's such a responsibility in this particular story," says John Krasinski, who plays Jack Silva, one of the CIA contractors and former Navy SEAL. "Not only because it's so highly politicized, but also because it's so intense and is a story not really being told. For me, there was a great responsibility to make sure we told it right, especially since it's about these six guys who are the definition of heroes."
The real-life defenders of the Americans in Benghazi, the members of the annex security team who were on the ground, are unanimous in what they hope audiences will take away from the film: The truth.
"They got it right," says Marc "Oz" Geist, one of the contractors at Benghazi. "When you watch the movie, you're seeing the guys, you're seeing the team," Kris "Tanto" Peronto adds. "They did an excellent job. That shows a lot of work."
"You have a group of people who overcome what most would consider insurmountable odds," Geist continues. "There are positives that comes from that. It's not a negative thing. You're gonna have troubles, you're gonna have things go bad. We lost four people and that's tragic, but that's not the defining moment. The defining moment is that we never lost because we never quit."
The film has all the hallmarks of its director's signature style: slow shots of dialogue between characters contrast fast-paced action with explosions; a weak leader gets usurped when the "right thing to do" becomes apparent, even though it isn't "by the book;" and what starts as a rescue turns out to be an epic battle for survival. Yet all of it is a faithful retelling of the Benghazi story, seconded by the guys who were there that night, right down to the funny one-liners of comic relief (called "Tantoisms" by the Benghazi team).
The portrayals of the team are realistic and intense. Anyone who's ever met Navy SEALs, Marine Scout Snipers, Army Rangers, or any other special forces operators will recognize the personalities portrayed on screen by Krasinski, James Badge Dale ("Rone"), Pablo Schreiber ("Tanto"), David Denman ("Boon"), Max Martini ("Oz"), and Dominic Fumusa ("Tig").
"It's about the human spirit and the will to win," the directors said. "No one ordered them to go. They volunteered and they volunteered at the drop of a hat. At a time when there's so much crap going on in the world, you are appreciative that people like this exist."