“13 Hours” revisited

We went to see the film 13 Hours at the Grandview Theater in St. Paul this past Saturday evening. Paul Mirengoff gave a good account of the film here. Paul’s post states what I have to say in greater detail and more articulately than I will. I only want to urge readers to see the film in a theater while you still can and to add these comments.

The movie follows in the line of Hollywood films depicting close combat based on historical or autobiographical accounts. To take the examples that come to mind, 13 Hours takes its place in the line including Black Hawk Down, We Were Soldiers, and American Sniper. I liked and appreciated all these films and loved 13 Hours.

13 Hours places viewers inside the experience of the surviving CIA contractors who sought to rescue Ambassador Stevens at the consulate and who protected the men and women at the CIA annex in Benghazi. I think I followed news accounts of the events fairly closely. I certainly followed them closely enough to declare Susan Rice a knave and a fool the moment she peddled the Obama administration line on the Sunday shows in the immediate aftermath of the events on 9/11/12.

But I had no idea what the men who fought off the attack through the night accomplished, or that they had accomplished something great. To put it another way, I had no idea what happened. The film gives these men their due. One can get a sense of the care taken to tell their story from Hugh Hewitt’s interview with producer Erwin Stoff.

I wanted to see the film at the Grandview because I assumed it would be playing in the cavernous theater downstairs and we wouldn’t have to worry about getting a seat. As it turned out, the film was playing upstairs in the small balcony theater — Carol was playing downstairs — but I need not have worried. The crowd was extremely small.

Why is that? Carol is doing better than 13 Hours at the Grandview, but why? I waited until we had seen the film to take a look at the reviews aggregated at Rotten Tomatoes. The reviews seem to me mixed and largely hostile. To the extent that they are, I think the reviewers refuse to take the film on its own terms. For example, reviews that criticize the film for lack of character development are confusing genres, or hostile to this genre, or hostile to the implications of the facts presented in this film. That’s my theory.

Have the reviews had an effect? Politico reports that “Benghazi film flops at the box office.” Yet the film is both incredibly exciting and inspirational. How I wish I could express my admiration and extend my thanks to the men directly. They are American heroes several times over.

Kirsten Powers says much the same only better in her USA Today column “Can Hilary take ’13 Hours’ of truth?” Please read her column and see the film.

UPDATE: Bill Campenni elaborates on the ethos of this film and others in the 2013 column “Just to save one guy…”