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

Michael Bay stages a summer action film around the politicized events of Benghazi – or in simpler terms, 13 Hours is a Michael Bay summer action film. His ill-placed brevity and kinetic camera work removes 13 Hours from reality. The soldier-focused narrative does bleeds American military values and pays honest tribute, disengaged from the posturing which followed.

13 Hours’ first act establishes villains through artificially staged drama. High-ranking CIA operatives gloat about their status. Their assigned defense team is shoved into a cycle of boredom. The soldier’s home lives are investigated for character building, and by act two, in come the sparking bullet squibs and plentiful explosions.

Bay plasters the film with his signatures, same as he did with his superficial Pearl Harbor.

With limited political insight, 13 Hours paints the scenario as messy, panicked, and confused. International unease and indecisiveness leaves the team stranded inside an unmarked base camp, fending off rebel Libyans through the evening. Context for Libya’s lapse into instability is rushed, leaving the film limp and interested in blockbuster-like dialog rather than the escalating national situation. Bay plasters the film with his signatures, same as he did with his superficial Pearl Harbor. Set-up is primarily designed to bolster the later spectacle.

In the new millennium’s rush to war films post-Saving Private Ryan, the genre shifted toward a violent, somber gravitas. Pearl Harbor was their end game which sent the genre into a bloated death spiral. In the 2010s came a resurgence. Hurt Locker, The Messenger, Zero Dark Thirty; films which pinpoint individual sacrifice in often mournful, uncomfortable ways.

By comparison 13 Hours feels artificially decorated, another bloated Michael Bay end game. Maybe this was done to lighten the inevitable conspiracy-driven fallout – deal in the heroes, not politicians. The six-man team who defended the compound performed an incredible service. When needed, Bay’s exaggerated (and often parodied) style can bring additional eyes to their heroics. Their accomplishments are being upscaled for the sake of mass public consumption.

13 Hours isn’t dumbed down, rather thinly focused. The film’s energy casts an implausibility on the situation, camera pans and set-ups visually creating the odds. 13 Hours barely asks why these Libyans attacked. There are no characters in their numbers; they’re just targets for the expertly trained security detail. And, in this rare case, ambiguity adds to the feature. As the base is overrun, there’s no sense of who fights for which side. Dialogs break down, communication scatters, and everyone comes under fire without knowing who their enemy could be. Tension is legitimate even if the director’s style overrides validity.

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Video

Although Bay supposedly wanted to shoot on film, he was convinced to go digital by director of photography Dion Beebe. Nighttime cinematography leads to noise – likely intentional – while the encode does well to process the images. Paramount gives the 144-minute movie a disc all its own with maximized parameters. Bonuses are shifted to a second disc.

If you’ve seen one Bay film on Blu-ray, you’ve likely seen them all. Egregiously warm color timing, inflated contrast, and infinite sharpness. Take note of all three as they all apply. His post-production style hasn’t changed. Even the noise tends be to a common thread.

Watching his work feels like viewing it on an uncalibrated TV, albeit one with noise reduction and artificial sharpness turned off. Shadows pinch some detail and the heated contrast (admittedly suitable considering the location) casts excessive light onto the frame.

Still, fidelity escapes. Close-ups are marvelous, capturing the face of a soldier through the progress of a battle – clean during downtime, covered in muck by the end. Exterior shots (done in Malta) display tremendous levels of clarity. Seaside areas, with or without the aggressive color timing, will always be gorgeous.

Audio

If you’ve heard one Bay film on Blu-ray…

A powerhouse audio mix which continues to introduce power as its nears the finish, the plentiful LFE support creates an enormous showcase. Late, one of the soldiers stuffs cotton in his ears to blot out machine gun fire. He’s not wrong – what’s coming is a hail of bullets scattered around the Atmos/TruehD 7.1 soundstage. Each round hammers the low-end with force.

Intense directionality spreads returning fire, the mix acutely aware of where return fire is coming from. The added rear channels are spoiled by the level of activity asked of them. Near the close as mortars begin raining in, explosions take on additional weight, dropping to vicious levels to accentuate the closeness of each blast.

While much can made of the action, 13 Hours fills the soundstage with activity from Libyan marketplaces and inside CIA safehouses. A key scene early one takes place inside the burning facility, characters calling to one another through the smoke. Their voices pan, creating a narrative-accentuating moment.

Extras

Given a full disc to work with, extras take up 84 minutes of time. For the Record comes first, interviewing author/journalist Mitchell Zuckoff, actors, and the soldiers who were there. Conspiracy dissenters won’t buy any of it, but the insight is appreciated. Uncovering Benghazi’s Secret Soldiers spends nearly a half hour on the same topic, detailing the roles of those involved who survived.

Those who are looking for movie-centric material can view Preparing for Battle, a typical behind-the-scenes feature made special by involvement from the soldiers themselves. A look into the lavish premiere inside At&T Stadium and touching tribute to those who died are left.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.