By CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE | Published January 21, 2016
NEW YORK (CNS)—Some might fear, simply from reading its title, that “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” (Paramount) would turn out to be little more than a rehash of the congressional hearings on the 2012 terrorist attack in Libya.
In reality, the film is a gripping, fact-based account of what happened on the ground when the U.S. consulate in the titular city was overrun, and four American lives—most prominently that of Ambassador Chris Stevens—were lost.
Michael Bay, who knows a thing or two about action thrillers (“The Rock,” “Armageddon” and the “Transformers” franchise), directs at a furious pace. His task is to dramatize the eyewitness accounts of six security operatives documented in the 2014 book by Mitchell Zuckoff.
Partisan political views and conspiracy theories are deliberately set aside, in favor of highlighting the courage and selflessness of unsung heroes who put themselves in harm’s way to save lives.
Jack Da Silva (John Krasinski), a former Navy SEAL, arrives in Benghazi as part of a band of security consultants hired to defend a top-secret CIA base. They’re a gruff, buff bunch of apparently hard-bitten-military vets who go by such nicknames as “Rone” (James Badge Dale), “Oz” (Max Martini), “Tanto” (Pablo Schreiber), “Boon” (David Denman), and “Tig” (Dominic Fumusa).
Predictably, however, they’re all softies at heart—family men who call their loved ones often with reassuring pledges that they’ll return home safely.
A visit to the area by Tripoli-based Stevens (Matt Letscher) presents the group with a serious challenge. The local diplomatic compound, just one mile from their CIA base, has minimum security. Stevens, though, is upbeat and optimistic, preferring to build bridges instead of fences.
Jack and his colleagues express concern, but are rebuffed by their boss, an official identified only as “Bob” (David Costabile).
“The truth is, there is no real threat here,” Bob says.
Such thinking is so disastrously wrongheaded, Tanto is driven to observe: “You can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys.”
And so we come to the fateful 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The day unfolds quietly, but as soon as night falls the consulate is besieged by gunmen and set ablaze.
From their nearby vantage point, Jack and the others watch in horror. Yet they’re prevented from staging a rescue by Bob. Repeated calls to the Pentagon and the State Dept. requesting air support go unanswered.
As the full extent of the carnage is revealed, including the death of Stevens, Rone rallies his team to defy Bob and enter the fray. Over the long hours that follow, these six men are the first and only line of defense against a growing mob on a murderous rampage.
As it chronicles a modern-day Battle of the Alamo, “13 Hours” is awash in sometimes bloody mayhem. To Bay’s credit, however, the violence is never gratuitous. Instead it registers as an integral part of the events his movie is recounting, a tragedy that apparently could have been avoided, had someone—anyone—in authority responded in a timely and adequate manner.
While “13 Hours” is not an appropriate choice for casual moviegoers of any age, its thematic significance and real-world resonance are such that even many adults who would normally shun a picture showcasing so much armed conflict may decide, on balance, to see this one.
The film contains constant graphic war violence, including gunfire, explosions, and gore, brief sexual banter and some profane and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L—limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
“Norm of the North” (Lionsgate)
A wisecracking polar bear (voice of Rob Schneider) ventures south to New York City to save his home environment from destruction in this silly but harmless animated comedy directed by Trevor Wall. As he goes up against a maniacal developer (voiced by Ken Jeong) who’s out to build luxury housing on the Arctic ice shelf, the upbeat ursine wins the support of the mogul’s assistant (voice of Heather Graham) and of her precocious daughter (voice of Maya Kay). While his adventures are suitable for all ages, and incorporate positive messages about family and friendship, merely average visuals, heavy-handed homilies about the need to go green as well as an excessive reliance on scatological jokes—a trio of mischievous lemmings relieve themselves in public at every opportunity—combine for a rather tedious outing. Mild cartoonish violence, some bathroom humor, a bit of adult wordplay. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I—general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG—parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
“Ride Along 2” (Universal)
In following up on his 2014 comedy, director Tim Story benefits from a script (by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi) that tones down the original’s relentless vulgarity. An elevated vocabulary fails to carry with it a higher quotient of laughs, however. Nor does the second chapter of this odd-couple story pairing a crusty Atlanta cop (Ice Cube) with the happy-go-lucky wannabe policeman (Kevin Hart) who’s about to marry his sister (Tika Sumpter) feel any more convincing than its predecessor. The newcomer’s exploits in the last go-round have won him a tryout on the force. But his easily exasperated brother-in-law to be remains unconvinced. So he brings the neophyte along on a trek to Miami, hoping their investigation of a Florida philanthropist (Benjamin Bratt) whose wealth may be based on underworld activities will prove that the novice lacks what it takes. All but the least demanding viewers would be well advised to skip this trip. Considerable gunplay and other violence, cohabitation, about a half-dozen uses of profanity, frequent crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
“The Masked Saint” (Freesyle)
Unlikely—yet fact-based—story of a professional wrestler-turned-pastor (Brett Granstaff) who resumes his career in the ring to raise money for his crumbling church while also fighting crime as a masked vigilante by night. He draws encouragement in his against-the-odds day job—and inspiration to rethink his sideline—from his supportive wife (Lara Jean Chorostecki) and from an elderly parishioner (Diahann Carroll), who’s witty and wise as well as devout. In adapting Chris Whaley’s fictionalized 2009 memoir, director Warren P. Sonoda provides viewers with fast-paced entertainment, ably juggling action in the ring with drama in the house of God. Good and evil are clearly defined, bad behavior is condemned, and characters who lose their way, and fail to find redemption, are served a heaping helping of just desserts. Some mild violence, wrestling action, a few mature themes. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II—adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.