By Bill Wine
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – “This is a true story.”
That’s the statement we take in first in 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.
But that’s easier said than done.
TH:TSSOB is an action thriller about the assault that’s been blurred by partisan politics ever since it occurred.
Now it’s the basis for an action flick.
And just in case the project is not offering enough ironies already, it’s being brought to the screen by the escapist moviemaker responsible for the Transformers flicks.
You can’t make this stuff up.
On the evening of September 11, 2012 — the eleventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks — a group of Islamic militants attack the American diplomatic compound and a nearby CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya. In response, CIA security contractors – that is, military veterans serving with either the Navy SEALS, the Marines, or Army Special Forces – undertake the desperate defense of the American Ambassador and his staff in the diplomatic compound.
American Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans – Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods, and Glen Doherty — are killed during the attack as the security team struggles to make sense out of the chaos and confusion.
John Krasinski, Pablo Schreiber, Max Martini, James Badge Dale, David Denman, and Dominic Fomusa play the members of the security force participating in the defense attempt.
Director Michael Bay (four Transformers movies, two Bad Boys movies, Pearl Harbor, The Rock, Armageddon), who also produced, tries to leave the politics out of the moviemaking equation.
Maybe that’s possible and maybe it’s not because this material is inherently political: you make the call.
The screenplay by Chuck Hogan — based on the book, 13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi, by Mitchell Zuckoff and five of the conflict’s combatants — creates an Alamo parallel and even references it at one point.
In general, it says here, partisan politics are ignored – although in-advance security measures are surely questioned — while the narrative concentrates on the specifics of the ground conflict, especially the seeming impossibility of soldiers in Libya being able to tell friend from foe and know whom to trust.
The voices of President Obama, then-Secretary-of-State Hillary Clinton, and her Republican critics are pretty much left out of it.
But there’s blame to be insinuated if not articulated and it’s dished out.
Regardless, the answer to the question of whether the tragedy was preventable remains.
As does the question of whether the release of the film closes or reopens debate about political motives in Washington’s lack of readiness or response to the attack – that is, whether we emerge from this new wrinkle in the current political campaign with what seems like fact-based truth or just more spin.
The answer to that question still lies ahead of us.
But whether this depiction seems authentic we can respond to now: given that it’s intended as a thank-you to these brave warriors as well as a portrait of the fog of war and the ineptitude of the authorities, it’s surprisingly well made and at least close to convincing.
So we’ll defend 2-1/2 stars out of 4 for a muscular military action drama. 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is a relentless, one-dimensional, technically adroit tribute.