Benghazi, by way of Bayhem.
A relatively restrained effort from the mega-blockbuster-director Michael Bay, 13 Hours largely delivers on its promise of politically-infused Black Hawk Down / Lone Survivor-esque against-the-odds action.Indeed it’s solid work from a filmmaker who has been anything but solid over his last few films. Although the loose retelling of the controversial true tale of a half a dozen souls trying to survive attacks from seemingly endless Libyan rebels with no backup or assistance is arguably too politically infused for Bay’s particular skillset. Perhaps the trouble is that, unlike directors Peter Berg (Lone Survivor) or Ridley Scott (Black Hawk Down) Bay is more clumsy when it comes to things like casting and characterisation, probably wondering why he couldn’t have put a teenage supermodel in this warzone, and unable to flesh out the background lives of these heroic soldiers without resorting to cloying cliché. Thankfully, whilst not as charismatic as the actors who have made Bay's best (The Rock, Bad Boys), the cast have enough going for them to muscle through the Bayhem, with The Office’s John Krasinski and The Pacific’s James Badge Dale making for a strong pair of friends caught up in an impossible situation. Max Martini lends further military authenticity, thanks to four seasons on the excellent David Mamet TV show The Unit, and Orange is the New Black’s Pablo Schreiber does well as the character who largely says what everybody else is thinking.They make for a good unit, but are obviously still sometimes overshadowed by Bay’s desire to blow people up in increasingly violent ways, although to give the director credit, this is the most restrained that he has been in many years, and there is some skill at work, particularly in his handling of the action, with several striking shots lapping up the acres of action with an impressive eye for military chaos. 13 Hours still wavers a bit not just in its jingoistic portrayal of its military contractors (albeit escaping the stigma surrounding them) but also in its controversial portrayal of the administration at the time, with both Obama and Clinton in the firing line. Bay never pulls the trigger, instead sweeping any condemning political conclusions to one side (the throwaway that this was planned months in advance), however it's still a compelling series of events, following the wake of Quaddafi’s death as the state falls to rebels and, ultimately, ISIS. 13 Hours is surprisingly competent, falling short of Black Hawk Down, but comparing more favourably to Berg's The Kingdom and Lone Survivor. As an Alamo-style military actioner about a group of heroic soldiers taking a last stand against a huge opposing force, it's a pretty good watch.
Picture QualityOf course 13 Hours was going to look spectacular – it’s a Michael Bay movie!
The 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation, framed in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 widescreen, boasts all of Bay’s signature visual tics – not least the striking colours and over-saturated temperament, but that’s just a stylistic choice with the image itself immaculate. Detail is outstanding, picking up every little grain of background texture; every bead of sweat, whilst the action sequences lap up the trademark Bayhem. Black levels are strong, allowing for some particularly exciting nighttime assaults, and overall this is glossy demo material through and through, as you’d only expect from the director.
Sound QualityThe Blu-ray of 13 Hours includes a Dolby Atmos soundtrack that can be listened to in 5.1, 7.1 or various Atmos configurations
Cas Harlow reviewed the audio using a standard 5.1-channel setup – A great track, as you'd only expect, with dialogue keenly prioritised across the frontal array, but that's far from the most important element, with the effects igniting the soundstage, blended into a suitably rousing score which keeps the tension going almost throughout the hefty two hour runtime. Whether whipping through busy streets or tearing through bullet-ridden walls, Bayhem may not be a great term when it comes to talking about action-over-substance in the film itself, but it's a positive benefit for a soundtrack, and this one delivers on all fronts, lighting up the stage, spinning around the surrounds, engaging the rears and thundering through the LFE channel. Demo and reference through and through, it's powerful but still remarkably precise, and excels in every way.
The soundtrack doesn't disappoint either, particularly for Atmos fans
Steve Withers reviewed the audio using a 7.2.4-channel Dolby Atmos setup – Anyone who has watched a Michael Bay film will know what to expect when it comes to the Dolby Atmos soundtrack of 13 Hours. Despite the film itself being almost understated for a director like Bay, the soundtrack remains an immersive and visceral experience. The surround effects gradually build as the film itself moves towards its action-filled finale, with the audio expertly recreating the sounds of busy streets and life in the US compounds. When the chaos begins to rise and the rebel forces move against the US Embassy, so the soundtrack kicks up a gear, taking full advantage of all the additional speakers to add layers to the mix.
The effects are steered seamlessly around the room, as explosions and bullets rip through the sound field. The LFE track is thunderous, underpinning the action and giving the gunfire a greater percussive kick and the explosions more impact. In one scene, mortar shells rain down on the CIA compound and the sound designers use all the benefits of immersive audio. The sounds of the shells are heard falling down from above and then exploding all around. Yet within the fog of war, the music is effectively mixed across the front soundstage and dialogue remains clear and centred on the image. Overall 13 Hours delivers a fantastic Dolby Atmos soundtrack that is sure to please.
ExtrasA number of solid extras round out the disc, headlined by the half-hour piece, Uncovering Benghazi’s Secret Soldiers, which looks at the work of the real heroes; the real locations and the recreated sets; the work of the main cast; and the real soldiers – with interviews from most everybody involved. Preparing for Battle: Behind the Scenes of 13 Hours spends almost a further half an hour looking at the production, from the style to the shoot; the military authenticity and cast training; and the shooting locations, whilst the 8 minute For the Record: Finding the Truth Amid the Noise looks at the real-life build-up to the terrifying events in Benghazi, and the controversial political mindfield behind it. The extras close out with a short look at the film’s premiere and at the lost souls left behind on the battlefield.
Blu-ray VerdictWith its colourful but bloody political backdrop, there’s really no reason why this shouldn’t have been more like Scott’s Black Hawk Down (even referenced in the film) beyond the fact that, quite simply, Bay doesn’t appear capable of that kind of emotional impact beneath the surface of his viscerally engaging action shenanigans. Nevertheless, this is solid work from a director who’s probably quite unaccustomed to directing humans anymore.
13 Hours is far from Pearl Harbor, and not deserving of all the vitriol it’s received
Outstanding video and audio and a nice selection of extras, make this a must-have release for fans of Black Hawk Down or, arguably more comparably, Peter Berg's The Kingdom and Lone Survivor; and fans of decent against-the-odds military actioners will certainly like this. Bay has been bludgeoning us with mindless Transformers sequels for a decade, we should be relieved that he's still capable of something halfway decent.
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