Sure, Bay indulges some signature cinematic fetishes. But he shows restraint with the slowed-down, sexed-up shots. War is gritty here, not glamorous. Result: characters, stakes and emotions feel authentic — all the more so thanks to terrific actors including James Badge Dale and Pablo Schreiber as actual ex-military men and family men who battled terrorists.
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Packed with misfiring grenade launchers, blue lens flares, and Mercedes armored cars, 13 Hours makes the best case for Bay as a toy-box aesthete with an abstract sense of motion and color—and the best case against him as an incoherent jingoism fetishist.
In terms of anything that has to do with characterization, Chuck Hogan‘s script is punishingly rote. But as bombastic, shoot-‘em-up spectacle, 13 Hours is a visceral, well-paced and often beautiful action-thriller.
Of course, when the action gets underway, Bay unleashes that flashy id of his, and all of his flaws as a titan of blockbuster filmmaking come to the fore.
Abhorrent politics aside, it’s also a terrible movie. The dialogue is atrocious, the performances rote. One could make the case that its incoherence is a grand meta-narrative statement about the fluidity of combat, but I don’t think that’s the case.
It’s a nail-biter and a head-scratcher rolled into one: The mind may initially race to keep up with logistics, but eventually one acknowledges the futility of trying to make sense of a situation that Bay himself hasn’t managed to clarify.
There’s a real story of American heroism somewhere in here, but it’s diluted by Bay’s worst tendencies.
A weird mix of pseudo-jingoism and Bay’s usual bombastic firepower, 13 Hours ends up being a straight-up war film without an actual war in it.
Bay's overwrought tendencies simultaneously lead to the film's most compelling sequences of tense, bloody battle even as they forestall the more nuanced storytelling that would be crucial to truly unpacking the attacks. Bay may see the film as a cry of truth; muffled by his own predilections it's only a whisper.
To use what, under the circumstances, is a far too convenient metaphor, Bay is interested in accelerating from zero to 100 as quickly as possible and then maintaining speed, rather than skillfully shifting gears and adjusting speeds based on curves, hills and road conditions. In this case, he gets you there, but you know the ride could have been a lot more varied and nuanced.