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Laramie Movie Scope:
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Soldiers versus bureaucrats

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 19, 2016 -- There have been endless Congressional hearings about what went wrong in Benghazi, Libya on September 11 and 12 when four Americans and a lot of Libyans were killed in attacks on an American diplomatic compound and at a CIA annex nearby. I didn't learn much from the news reports of the hearings, which are just political theater for the most part, but I did learn a lot from this movie, based on the book 13 Hours by Mitchell Zuckoff.

This is a story about the chaos surrounding those attacks, and the heroics of the men defending both the diplomatic compound and the CIA annex. These security forces are mostly ex-military soldiers under contract to either the CIA or U.S. State Department. It is a job, but also more than a job, to protect their fellow Americans in this dangerous outpost.

The film follows the usual path of introducing the characters, and their families in some instances. The dangerous instability in Libya, and the inadequacy of the security at the two compounds is also detailed early in the film. Then we get down to the fighting, which is very intense.

This film is directed by Michael Bay (“The Rock”) who specializes in action films, and this is definitely one of his better films. Bay is widely hated by critics, who have dragged down the ratings on this film lower than they would otherwise be, if not for the Bay baggage, and brand.

The diplomatic compound in Benghazi is attacked first, and those at the compound requested immediate help, but the chief of operations (played by David Costabile of “Side Effects”) at the CIA annex, a mile away, delays sending security forces to help for half an hour. By the time the soldiers get there, the compound is on fire and Ambassador Chris Stevens (Matt Letscher of “Her”) trapped inside a burning building, cannot be reached.

The scene at the diplomatic compound was utter chaos. Lots of people are milling around. Some are friendly, some are hostile, and it is hard to tell who is who. The soldiers trying to rescue the ambassador have an uneasy feeling that they have been drawn into a trap.

The main battle comes later, however, at the CIA annex, which comes under heavy attack as the CIA chief tries to arrange an escape with the aid of friendly Libyan forces, and simultaneously arrange for the destruction of sensitive CIA documents. A U.S. transport is able to land at the Benghazi airport with a small contingent of soldiers to aid in the evacuation, but it is held up at the airport by local authorities for a time. They get to the compound just in time to help repel another heavy attack.

When the first attack on the CIA annex arrived, the attackers find the soldiers ready for the attack. They put up a fierce fight. The attack consists not only of small arms fire, but rockets and mortars as well. The defenders include Tyrone 'Rone' Woods (James Badge Dale of “Iron Man 3”) the central character in the movie. He was a man who embodied not only great courage and fighting spirit, but also a deep love for his family. Another defender, also a main character, is Jack Silva (John Krasinski of “Aloha”) who quickly decides it was a bad idea to go to Libya.

One of the more interesting characters in the film is Peyman Moaadi (“A Separation”) who plays a Libyan interpreter caught up in the battle. It appears he is having almost as much trouble telling the friendlies from the hostiles as the soldiers are. This movie is a straight up salute to those who fought and died to protect people during these attacks. This film rates a B.

One of the things left out of the movie, perhaps because it doesn't really fit the narrative, is the fact that Ambassador Stevens was pulled from the building by Libyans, and he was still alive. The security forces left, believing he must have died because nobody could have survived that fire. He was later taken to a hospital where efforts to revive him failed. He died of smoke inhalation. He was not shot or injured by explosives in the attack.

This film doesn't get into the reasons for the attacks against the U.S. compounds, either, but there has been a lot of political wrangling between Democrats and Republicans over statements made by U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice in the hours shortly after the attack. Rice said the cause of the attack was probably a video made in the U.S., “Innocence of Muslims,” which had sparked protests against the U.S. around the world. A lot of people don't believe this is true, and Rice paid a huge political price for what she said. It is worth noting, however, that Ahmed Abu Khattala, arrested in 2014 as the alleged ringleader of the attacks, said the “Innocence of Muslims” video was, in fact, the main reason for the attacks.

The political wrangling over Benghazi is of no more significance than the hearings held over the Whitewater scandal during the Clinton Administration, but it is similar, in that the hearings are an obvious attempt, not to find out the truth about Benghazi, but to damage Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. The Whitewater investigation served to damage Al Gore's presidential campaign, and look where that got us: The 9/11 attacks, economic disaster and the disastrous war in Iraq. That is the gift that keeps on giving, along with the Middle East diplomatic and strategic mistakes of the Bush and Obama Administrations.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2016 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)