Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

Forum locked This topic is locked, you cannot edit posts or make further replies.  [ 1 post ] 
Author Message
PostPosted: Sun Jan 17, 2016 1:55 pm 
Site Admin

Joined: Sat Mar 08, 2003 1:50 pm
Posts: 3683
Location: California/NYC

"Are we expecting any friendlies?"

This film may be pointless, or have too overt a message. Or, coming from the author of the technically elaborate but idiotic "Transformers" franchise, Michael Bay, it might somehow be both. The subject is recent: the siege by Ansar al-Sharia militants of the Benghazi compound in which US ambassador Christopher Stevens (Matt Letscher) tragically lost his life, dying of smoke inhalation, and the struggle of US military, hired support, and CIA to stave off repeated waves of invading rebel Libyan terrorists and save what's left of the outpost and the remaining staff stranded there. The film account unreels, according to frequent datelines, for the eponymous 13 hours, running from the eleventh (the anniversary of 9/11) to the twelfth of September 2012. Bay covers the fighting well, in a purely technical sense. He is good at action -- its loudness, its chaos, its random complexity. But he's bad at everything else -- other than the usual human interest clich├ęs about soldiers chatting with their wives and kids and longing to be back home, and bravely taking on a thankless battle when their effete superiors have repeatedly dropped the ball.

This is an endorsement of he-men -- and maybe an indictment of the Obama administration and Hilary Clinton's presidential bid. They have been impugned for setting up the Ambassador to be under-protected at Benghazi, and some will never believe the claim that this has not been proven. The assumption that his film is a gibe at Obama and Clinton is supported by the way it's getting promotion by Republicans as a weapon in the presidential campaign (see Time). Maybe it's more accurate to say the big villains of Bay's movie aren't politicians at all, but egghead intellectuals from Ivy League schools "who get in the way of beefy dudes with big guns" as Zack Beauchamp of Vox wrote. Anyway, in Bay's film a lot of the time we barely know what we are watching. Which may be realistic -- but isn't artistic, or anything one can follow.

Indeed, we watch feeling that not only was the post under-protected, but the force that was there was underused, and fatally held back. And the picture is accurate, as shown by the damage and loss suffered in fact. You need not be an opponent of the Obama administration to believe Ambassador Stevens and his staff at Benghazi (not the US embassy, note, which was in Tripoli) had been put in harm's way with woefully poor protection.

The film begins with the arrival in Benghazi of new GRS's --Global Response Staff, security contractors on the ground working for the CIA. Their CIA superior is condescending to these tough every-men, telling them they are mere hirelings. "We hired the brightest minds from Harvard and Yale to do their work," he says."The best thing you can do is stay out of their way." They're bearded and macho -- but don't expect the lines to be clearly drawn on that score, because all the guys have beards, including the CIA chief, and the only people who can be clearly distinguished from them are the ambassador, who is clean-shaven, and the one woman, Sona Jilani (Alexia Barlier), Sona tries desperately to bypass the CIA bosses and get help in the form of a US plane flyover that would scare off the terrorist attackers, but to no avail.

There are six GRS's, Kris "Tanto" Paronto (Pablo Schreiber), John "Tig" Tiegen (Dominic Fumusa), Mark "Oz" Geist, Ty "Rone" Woods, who perishes in the battle (James Badge Dale)," Jack Silva" (not his real name; played by John Krasinski), and Dave "Boon" Benton (David Denman). These men, in real life, have stated their displeasure at the inaccuracies of a Congressional report about the event. They have endorsed the book by Mitchell Zuckoff adapted by Chuck Hogan for this film.

After we get to know the GRS's a bit, we get a look at the Ambassador. Stevens has recently arrived, and is represented as a well-meaning and naive fellow. His first public appearance is a security disaster, according to the GRS's, because a crowd of unknown people seeps in. There are scenes reveling in the humanness of the GRS's. One has a meltdown when he learns due to a slip from another kid in the back of a car that his wiife is pregnant. He doesn't know how they can afford the children they have. Another is reading Joseph Campbell's The Power Within. This film isn't very good on the cultural authenticity. Once again the key Arab character, a non-combat interpreter elected to join the fighting inexplicably called Amahl (as in the Gian Carlo Menotti opera), is played by a non-Arab, New York-born, Iranian-descended Peyman Moaadi. The film was shot in Morocco and on a large set constructed in Ta' Qali, Malta.

The surviving GRS's have gone on record saying that CIA Chief of Station and CIA Chief of Base "Bob" (David Costabile) "did not assist us." As simple as that. And we see the movie's "Bob" repeatedly telling the men to "stand down" when they desperately need to fight. (A Time magazine article says this is not supported by the facts; so does "Bob" himself, according to a Guardian story.) Inexplicably, numbingly, as we see one wave after another of mysterious men in cars, a bus, even amid sheep, approach the Ambassador's compound, the men say, "Are we expecting any friendlies?" and the aliens -- "tangos," they call them, their code for terrorists -- come close enough to launch rockets before our boys can fight back. If they had shot at the bus the minute it appeared they would have set off its load of ordinance at a distance, saving buildings and men that were lost.

Sometimes the action seems like Fast and Furious 8: North African Combat. There are some hair-raising and wild car sequences. Rarely has it been made so clear how Americans in Middle East wars don't know who's on their side. A group of "friendlies" who wander in join them and an American fighter says, "Just don't shoot us in the back." You realize they very well might. You wander why 30 "tangos" are allowed to come so close to the three compound buildings before the men on the rooftops shoot at them.

This is another grimly fatalistic and pessimistic picture of modern warfare. Justin Chang of Variety argues in his review, like some others, that Bay, being "Hollywood's most aggressively pro-military director," is just reveling in "a harrowing minute-by-minute procedural" of the battle, rather than taking any side, and thus delivers "an experiential tour de force but a contextual blur, a shrewdly dumb movie" that will appeal to the American Sniper and Lone Survivor audience but not enlighten anyone who wants a thinking war film. It takes on a subject very much like Black Hawk Down -- a name referred to by one of the unsung "secret" GRS heroes -- and runs with it, chewing up its high-powered battle material and spitting it out in vivid action images unleavened by any larger understanding or emotional truth.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, 144 mins., premiere 12 Jan. 2016.

┬ęChris Knipp. Blog:

Display posts from previous:  Sort by  
Forum locked This topic is locked, you cannot edit posts or make further replies.  [ 1 post ] 

All times are UTC - 8 hours

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 16 guests

You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot post attachments in this forum

Search for:
Jump to:  
Powered by phpBB® Forum Software © phpBB Group