My family and I went to see 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi on Saturday. I found the movie to be an exciting and moving recreation of the actions of the CIA contractors, all former members of elite American military units, who fought against the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya on 9/11/12, and a damning indictment of the lack of action by the administration which left these men in the lurch, their criminal inaction leading to the death of former Seals Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty. A strong language advisory as military men under fire have been known to swear on occasion, and I would further note that my wife had to leave the theater because she found the movie too intense. My review is below the fold and the usual warning as to spoilers is in full effect.
It should be said at the outset that the surviving men who fought acted as advisors on the film, so presumably it is as accurate as any entertainment film can be that seeks to recreate an historical event. The film begins by introducing us to the men who provide security for the “clandestine” CIA Annex in Benghazi. (I say “clandestine” because judging from the film the compound of buildings might as well have had a sign reading “American Spooks R Us!”, and any terrorists who did not know that the CIA was operating there were too stupid for words.) The men are frequently profane in their banter with each other, but they are also all family men, heartbroken at being away from their families. Thanks to 21rst century technology they are in constant contact with their families, which only seems to make the physical separation harder to take. The security men are looked down upon by the CIA operatives, many of them Ivy League graduates, who view them as simple minded grunts. Benghazi is portrayed as a city where normal life goes on side by side with gun battles between feuding factions and where it is all but impossible to distinguish between American allies and adversaries.
The film kicks into high gear with the attack on the consulate and the decision of the security team to go to the rescue, ignoring orders to stand down. The fighting is intense, confusing and sometimes surreal, as the Americans find themselves confronting armed Libyans constantly with little or no clue as to whether they are friend or foe. They fight their way into the consulate, recovering the body of Sean Smith, information management officer, but find no sign of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. (The Ambassador’ body was later brought to a hospital by Libyans.) They load up Smith’s body and the survivors from the consulate and make a harrowing trip back to the CIA Annex, fighting off attacks by terrorists along the way.
Back at the CIA Annex, the security team holds out until dawn against ever increasing massed terrorist attacks. Constant requests for assistance are sent out. In one scene CIA operatives at Benghazi note how close various military assets are on a map. A female CIA operative requesting assistance is asked what her authority is. In stunned disbelief she says she has the authority of asking for military aid for a lot of Americans, including herself, who are going to die if they are not helped. The military is shown as eager to respond, but no orders are ever given to relieve the CIA Annex. The only reinforcements they receive come at dawn , a group of CIA operatives led by Glen Doherty, a former seal, who, on their own initiative, flew from Tripoli to aid what one of the defenders of the CIA Annex called Alamo 2012. Shortly after Doherty arrives, both he and Woods are killed in a mortar barrage.
The battle scenes are quite realistic and gripping. The men are depicted as full fleshed human beings and not as military super soldiers. They are highly skilled warriors, but they are also men with families they miss. They joke with each other, and mourn their dead, while dealing with a situation where they are called to fight outnumbered, a thousand to one, without the military support they have every reason to expect.
The film has a main character who is religious. Quite brave, he states that he has simply assumed that God will take care of him in battle so long as he is doing what is right. The film gives us a good sense of the individual personalities of the men doing the fighting.
A grand film tribute to men who fought to save American lives when the powers that be in Washington, for crassly political reasons, chose to look the other way.