New To Blu: 13 Hours - Reviewed

We made it through Michael Bay's latest action thriller.

Like Transformers without the Transformers, Michael Bay once again can't control a camera to save his life while trying to remake Black Hawk Down without the talent of Ridley Scott to fix it. 13 Hours isn't awful even though it started off that way. The first half of this true story is an unfocused mess as if someone took scissors to the film reel and tried to cut a kirigami chain out of it. It felt like Bay had sixteen cameras rolling at all times no matter the context or tone of the scene, and was compelled to show the audience what was happening from every possible angle of every moment, giving each camera a good shake on top of it. You'd be shocked to know that this was nauseating. The opening act doesn't do much beyond establishing our heroes, and their families back at home, but somehow makes this simple concept frustratingly convoluted due to a nonsensical mess of editing, camera jostling, and inconsistent pacing that was so distracting I had to actually look away from the screen every few minutes just to let my eyes rest. Maybe I'm getting too old? And you can forget context. I had no idea what their objective was, why they were there, who they were fighting, and who I should care about besides John Krasinski's character.

"Pkjhew! Braow! Kerpunggg!"

Oliver Stone pulled off a staggering nearly 3,000cuts twenty years ago in Natural Born Killers while establishing context, character, and style. Michael Bay still can't do that in 2016. If the camera wasn't underneath everyone's crotch or practically clipping the nose hairs off the actor's faces, 13 Hours probably wouldn't have felt so obnoxious, maybe even good from the start. It's only when the establishing shots glide over the gorgeous Libyan vistas not yet obliterated by violence--and even the war torn areas, as well--do we get to appreciate the battlefield and better understand the odds against the men of this story.

I fully understand that, to a certain degree, not having context for the combat was intentional as to bring us closer to the confusion the real men of this story experienced in 2012. There is a skillful and disciplined art to doing so, which Michael Bay couldn't be bothered with until miraculously he decides out of nowhere to begin attempting to do just that more than halfway through the film. At 144 minutes, it felt more like 200, but at least the second half made it worth my time.

"Buddabudda! Brrapbrrap!"
13 Hours switches gears and starts taking notes from the aforementioned, yet far better, Black Hawk Down when we see our heroes relentlessly and desperately defending a single, isolated area. This is also when we finally start seeing the soldiers bonding and developing an ounce of character when they're not busy putting up a wall of gunfire. Strangely, Michael Bay decides to pull the camera back and give us a wider peripheral of the action, allowing us to feel like we're sharing the roof with the brave men, hiding behind cover with them, or riding a drone between the buildings with bullets and rockets zipping past us. Some of the most thrilling shots include seeing the volley of bullet drops, and following the smoke trail of a rocket into its target. This imbued the action with a much needed sense of invigorating realism. It's perplexing that these epic scenes follow a deluge of visual slurry in place of action segments leading into the gigantic third act. I'm not sure if Michael Bay was getting smarter or just more exhausted as the production went on, but whatever happened, it ended up working fairly well. 

"Aagh! Aaarrgh! Grrraaah!"
What makes this massive closing finale more satisfying is that the stakes are raised significantly. There is a purpose the audience can finally understand here, a need to see the good guys succeed and not just because they're American soldiers, but because we start to see them as human beings and not just a bunch of Mr. Shooter McBang Bangs. Bay starts to hone in on that catharsis and plucks those nerves lovingly. We start to see vulnerabilities exposed in the heroes' situation physically, mentally, and environmentally.

When it all winds down, my last gripe is with an ending that just wouldn't end. It's disjointed and goes on a wee bit too long. There were a couple of beautiful moments that would have made for powerful closing frames to leave the audience with, but Bay had to drive home the American pride just a little too hard for my taste and it robbed the film of some honest poignancy. Some.

Ultimately, 13 Hours satisfies, but you have to be prepared to tolerate a mess of an opening act at odds with a plot that develops like sludge before it opens up and kicks you in the ass and heart. Thankfully, it's not a straight-jawed American flag waving headache the entire way through. You'll laugh plenty, probably cheer, and you might even cry.


- J.G. Barnes