The marketing campaign for 13 Hours sold the movie based on the apparent allure of grimy, sweaty professional soldiers carrying around guns and achieving the impossible. The movie, I found, delivers on that promise but has a depth that was unexpected.
The story is set in 2012 Benghazi, Libya. Yes, that Benghazi. The focus is on the events that launched a thousand Congressional hearings, the attack by scores of locals on the U.S. diplomatic compound in the country. Facing off against incredible odds, six CIA contractors defy orders and fight off the attackers for, yes, 13 Hours.
That’s the core of the movie, the attack against the compound and the response to it. And that was the crux of the campaign for the movie last year, which focused on the overwhelming odds that the soldiers faced to do what was right, despite the orders not to. But there’s a surprising amount of material outside of those points that actually make the movie more compelling than might be expected.
That doesn’t just mean all the “I gotta get home to my kids, man” moments that are pervasive. Especially from John Krasinski’s Jack Silva, the central character whose story we’re following, there’s a lot of setting up the family back home as the main stakes in the plot. The contractors who literally run toward the gunfire and explosions mostly have people back home who they love and care about, but not for a second do they hesitate to rush into danger despite the odds. That gets a bit schmaltzy and at times is used as a lazy shorthand for backstory and character development.
Outside of that, there’s almost a full half of the movie that goes by *before* the gunfight that was the primary selling point of the campaign. That does more to establish the in-country stakes than anything else and is surprisingly compelling. That’s how we get to know Silva and the other contractors and see both how they do their job and how good they are at their jobs. The daily grind of shuttling diplomats to slightly-shady meetings and dealing with the locals gives us insights into how serious they are and what their capabilities are and are essential to the climactic gunfight. In other words, there’s a good half of the movie that was almost completely missing from the marketing and forms a fairly interesting story in and of itself.
One thing the campaign got exactly right is the look and feel of the movie. The sales pitch was for a gritty story that featured a lot of explosions and serious weaponry being displayed. That’s exactly what was delivered, all with Bay’s trademark slickness. It’s both exactly what you would expect based on the trailer and filled with a depth that the campaign didn’t really hint at.