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13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is an action-heavy thriller based on eye-witness accounts of the events leading up to the attacks on the temporary American mission in Benghazi and the secret CIA annex on Sept. 11, 2012. Directed by Michael Bay, the movie is based on a memoir written by a group of CIA contractors who claim they were ready to help the ambassador and his small U.S. State Department detail but were told to stand down by their base chief. The movie is seen as highly political by some and shouldn't be considered an impartial narrative of what happened on that fateful night. Frequently violent and bloody, the movie shows dead bodies, including that of a prominent character. People die from bullet wounds, explosions, and fires/smoke inhalation. There's also a fair bit of strong language ("f--k," "s--t," and more) and a few mild innuendoes.
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What's the story?
13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI is director Michael Bay's adaptation of the same-titled memoir about the deadly 2012 night in Libya that cost four American lives -- including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens -- and remains one of the most hotly debated events to take place during President Obama's administration. Focusing on six commandos who were in Libya as CIA contractors on a special security detail (all ex-special forces -- SEALs, Deltas, etc.), the movie's protagonist is Jack Silva (John Krasinski), the latest to join the Benghazi crew under his fellow SEAL Tyrone "Rone" Woods (James Badge Dale). They guard a secret CIA annex led by surly base chief Bob (David Costabile), who doesn't think the soldiers' presence is necessary. After Ambassador Stevens (Matt Letscher) relocates to Benghazi, the team is on high alert, and on Sept. 11, 2012, in what seems like a calculated series of attacks, local militia attacks both the compound where the ambassador lived and, later, the supposedly secret CIA annex.
Is it any good?
Known for big-budget explosions, fast edits, and anti-authority warriors (be they cops, self-sacrificing oil drillers, or Transformers), Bay once again glorifies big guns over big minds. Despite claims that 13 Hours isn't a political film, the movie clearly takes the position that the people in the ambassador's State Dept.-issued security detail were a bunch of amateurs with "less than a dozen years of military experience between them" and that "Bob" was antagonistic and, worse, an elitist who thought the ex-military crew was only good for working out, playing video games, and doing as they were told. Naturally, by the end of the film, a battered and resigned Bob sentimentally tells one of them, "I wish more Americans were like you."
Whether these men were really as eclectic a mix as they seem on screen is hard to know if you haven't read the book. Krasinski is a study in understated control as a father of three who just wants to bring home a better living, whereas Boon (Krasinki's long-ago Office co-star David Denman) is the intellectual of the group, reading Joseph Campbell in his downtime; Tanto (Pablo Schreiber) is the loud-talking joker; and Tig (Dominic Fumusa) and Oz (Max Martini) are the serious-eyed guys with an unmistakable intensity. There's a little humor in the flick -- mostly courtesy of the Annex's Libyan interpreter, Amahl (Peyman Moaadi), who isn't quite ready to use a gun -- but this is definitely a "bring out the guns, the ammo, and the flag" kind of movie. If you want a nuanced approach, look elsewhere.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about "historical" movies that are only a few years removed from the events they're dramatizing. How are they different than movies made decades after the fact? Do you need time and distance from a subject to treat it fairly/objectively?
How does the violence in this movie compare to what you might see in a comic book or horror movie? Do different types of media violence have different impact?
Does 13 Hours have political implications? Should viewers believe this account of what happened? Why or why not? Is any film truly impartial?
Does the movie treat the CIA agents fairly? Do you think they would have a different perspective on the way the night unfolded? What about base chief Bob?
- In theaters: January 15, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: June 7, 2016
- Cast: John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Pablo Schreiber
- Director: Michael Bay
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: History
- Run time: 144 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong combat violence throughout, bloody images, and language
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.