Michael Bay’s latest action adventure has drawn attention by virtue of its claims to historical accuracy and the sheer brutality of the spectacle that is portrayed on screen. But is it more than the standard Hollywood war film?
Unaccustomed to toning down the violence, Michael Bay certainly does not shy away from the explosions in this adaptation of Mitchell Zuckoff’s 2014 book. The ‘barrage of noisy and large indecipherable action’, as described by Mark Kermode, does not detract from the film though, both pleasing the adrenaline junkies in the audience and fulfilling its promise of an action film that conveys the limits of democratic effectiveness in conflict states.
Although it utilises many of the common traits of Hollywood war films, such as the repeated use of slow motion and distorted camera angles, the film does not feature unremittingly gratuitous violence, the focus on the weaponry itself and the relationships between the main characters and their families in the U.S. lending a depth to the film that transcends the slaughter.
The film itself centres around the GSR, a small group of ex-military operatives charged with protecting the CIA Station in Benghazi following the fall of Gaddafi’s regime. Led by “Rone” Woods (James Badge Dale) and with newly arrived Jack Da Silva (John Krasinski) finding his feet, the team are confronted with the arrival of Chris Stevens (Matt Letscher), the US Ambassador, in Benghazi, who is staying at the Special Diplomatic Mission away from the Station.
the focus on the weaponry itself and the relationships between the main characters and their families in the U.S. lending a depth to the film that transcends the slaughter.
As the tension builds, the Mission is attacked by armed Libyans, only for the misguided ‘Chief’ (David Costabile) to refuse Woods’ initial desire to intervene. Still without authorization, the GSR deploys across the city, finding the Mission ablaze, but unable to locate the Ambassador, who is later confirmed to have died from smoke inhalation. Amongst this, the collective might of American military assets are displayed as impotent in the face of the unexpected attack and as the action moves back to the Station, the threat intensifies, ultimately resulting in the death of Woods and “Bub” Doherty (Toby Stephens).
Some critics have draw direct links between the timing of the film’s release and the upcoming American Presidential Election, Hillary Clinton having been accused in certain quarters of failing to ensure the safety of the Ambassador. Although this is obviously partisanship at work, it does raise questions as to the film’s intended audience, who would primarily consist of conservative voters anyway.
Ultimately though, the film offers what it promised. It is not a nuanced drama with personal stories at its heart, nor will it appeal to any with a weak stomach. But for those who cherish the memories of films such as Die Hard and Under Siege, this is a film not to be missed.