Blu-ray Review: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

13 BluSTUDIO: Paramount | DIRECTOR: Michael Bay | CAST: John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Max Martini, Pablo Schreiber, David Costabile, Matt Letscher
RELEASE DATE: 6/7/2016 | PRICE: PRICE: Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Combo $39.99; DVD $29.99
BONUSES: featurettes
SPECS: R | 147 min. | Action | 2.35:1 widescreen | 5.1 Discrete Dolby Digital (Dolby TrueHD compatible) | English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Michael Bay’s (Pain & Gain, Transformers Dark of the Moon) searing look at the events surrounding the Benghazi tragedy is kinetic and frenetic, delivering a roster of American heroes then putting them in the soup so thick you’ll be hard pressed to know who’s doing what when bullets start to fly.

The heroes in question aren’t military; they are contracted security forces tasked with protecting U.S. intelligence officers and our “diplomatic outpost” (not an embassy) in one of the most dangerous locations on Earth.  Faithfully based on the book 13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened In Benghazi, the movie depicts each as a devoted patriot who chose to be in this forsaken place, albeit at the wrong time, after their official careers in U.S. special forces concluded. Their presence saved nearly two dozen lives but–as has been well documented–two of them gave their lives and two others, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, also died when radicals stormed both compounds in the wake of uprisings in Cairo.

John Krasinski in 13 Hours

John Krasinski in 13 Hours

The movie takes pains to spread the blame for the events that spanned Sept. 11-12, 2012, from ill-prepared site security at the diplomatic compound, to a mission-focused mindset among bureaucrats that delayed help when it was needed the most, to a military that just wasn’t nimble enough to respond to a developing crisis that didn’t involve military assets.  Had this been a fictionalized account, thundering F-16s would have buzzed the rioting Libyans in a rah-rah moment of American saber rattling.  But in the movie – as in reality – the skies over Benghazi were exasperatingly quiet, leaving the attackers to raid with relative impunity.

Despite the rocket-fire pacing of the latter two thirds of the movie, mimicking the chaos on the ground, 13 Hours looks lush and colorful in practically every shot, giving Benghazi a paradoxical beauty as all hell breaks loose. Frequent lens flares only seem to add to the eye-catching cinematography on display. When the battle rages, the pets in the house will take notice as no bullet goes unannounced, no RPG unheralded. The zips and zings are accompanied by throbbing bass when anything explodes…and a lot does.

The included supplements are relegated to a second high-def disc, given the 140-plus minute running time. Two are fairly cookie-cutter shorts, but two others go deeper into the production, the actual events, and the men who fought (and who spent much time on set during shooting).  One of the actors states that being able to speak with their heroic real-life counterparts provided much-needed fuel during the grueling shoot.  A few bonds were made as the actors and their subjects realized how similar they were (even in looks, as was the case with Max Martini and commando Mark Geist, who subbed for the actor in one brief shot to see if anyone would notice). A filmmaker or cast commentary would have been a welcome addition.

This is an intense, no holds-barred depiction of the entropy of battle, similar in theme and tone to Black Hawk Down. With the political conversation and potentially the next president still being influenced by the events in Benghazi, 13 Hours strips away the politics and second guessing to put the focus on the men who’s fast action saved lives, as well as those who were lost. And when you get down to it, that’s far more important than who knew what, when.


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About Gary

Gary Frisch has been contributing laserdisc, DVD and Blu-ray reviews to Video Business magazine, Home Theater Magazine, Home Theater Buyer’s Guide, Stereophile Guide to Home Theater and the DVD Guide for more than 14 years. He still has a collection of more than 40 laserdiscs, along with a working auto-reverse LD player, but thinks Blu-ray is da bomb and anxiously awaits the original Star Wars trilogy so he can buy it for the fifth time.