13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi (2016)
***This was a real event, so spoilers do not apply***
I confess I was totally unaware of this film, which was directed by Michael Bay. I happened across a late-night TV showing, and thought it might while away some time. I did recall the real events portrayed in the film though, the attacks on American installations in Libya in 2012, often called The Battle Of Benghazi. On the 11th of September that year, Libyan fundamentalist radicals began attacking the US diplomatic compound in that city, where the US Ambassador to Libya was staying overnight. They later continued the assault, switching to the supposedly secret CIA headquarters, one mile away.
Over the next thirteen hours, large numbers of determined attackers fought against the small number of security guards, state department officials, and CIA agents trapped in the buildings. They were heavily armed; using rockets, mortars, and tactical vehicles against the Americans. By the time the fighting was over, two private security guards had been killed, ten other Americans wounded, and the US Ambassador, Christopher Stevens, had also died, when the residence was set on fire by the attackers. An unknown number of the militants also perished, many mown down by the return fire from the defenders. These events are all true, and the film is based on the book by Mitchell Zuckoff.
Right from the start, the film gets into the action, as new arrival Jack Silva is collected from the airport by his old army friend, Tyrone. Jack has come to work for the private security firm that has been employed to protect the CIA agents still operating in Libya. The rest of that group are all ex-military, mostly from special forces units. Even before arriving at the base, the pair are trapped in the narrow streets by militant Libyans, and are lucky to escape alive. Jack gets to meet his new comrades, and discovers that most of the work is routine; driving and escorting CIA agents to meetings, and observing the actions of known anti-American elements in the city.
It soon becomes clear that it is impossible to know who to trust. Libyan guards employed to defend the gates of the missions are unreliable, the police are corrupt, and the members of the supposedly friendly ’17-Feb’ group of Libyan allies are indistinguishable from the enemy. The local CIA Head of Station dislikes the private security guards, and makes no secret of his disdain for them. News that the US Ambassador is coming to visit throws them into turmoil, as they do not have enough men to mount a proper guard on the residence, and protect the CIA HQ too. The Head of Station also dismisses warnings of a possible attack on the Ambassador, designed to coincide with the anniversary of 9/11.
Whe the main action starts, it is full-on indeed. I found myself holding my breath at times, as the tiny garrison fought against all odds, facing increasingly large numbers of enemy militants. They were everywhere and anywhere, as were us viewers, and the tension was so fully wound, I thought I was on those rooftops with them. That never lets up, either. Despite some pauses as the enemy regroups, and the Americans try to contact home on Facetime, or take a water and food break, it is action as you rarely see it, outside of a modern war film. Meanwhile, the CIA Station Chief finally succumbs to the pressure, and requests help from US forces, wherever they can be found. But the US government is reluctant to give them support, due to the complex diplomatic issues. No aircraft or helicopters are sent, despite the frantic appeals, and the troops on the ground are left to fend for themselves as best as they can.
This is a really relentless action film that often feels tiring to watch. Remembering at all times that these are true events, my admiration for the small group of Americans knows no bounds. The stress and pressure they were under has rarely been seen in modern times, and every single one of them stood up, and did what needed to be done. The 144-minute running time is barely noticeable, even allowing for some downtime, as the group discuss families and children left at home. This is an edge of the seat film in every way, and I recommend it for anyone who appreciates such dramas. Other than Toby Stephens, the British actor, I did not recognise a single member of the cast. That added to the realism, and was far better than stuffing it with famous stars.
It felt convincing and authentic from the opening scene. You can’t say that for many films, these days. I was really surprised by this film, and I think you will be too. Here’s a trailer.