13 Hours Review

I’ve always been a defendant of Michael Bay. I seem to be the only person in the medium of film reviews who can say that, but he does take some interesting film topics under his wing and adapts them onto the big screen for our enjoyment. I was a fan of his last non-Transformers film, Pain And Gain, so does his new film, 13 Hours, stand up with that?

13 Hours stars John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Pablo Schreiber, Max Martini, Dominic Furmusa and David Denman and is directed by Michael Bay. Based on the true story of the 2012 Benghazi attacks, the film follows at team of US security personnel, as they try to keep both themselves and the diplomats they work for alive from advancing militia forces.

First off, I want to establish that Michael Bay is a formalist. For those unsure of what that means, Formalism is creating something (cinema, music, arts) by sticking to the set rules of the genre. For example, we all can think of how a rom-com will pan out, they all follow the same plot points. 13 Hours is no different, it fits the mould of an action film to the beat, but in a world of Marvel and reboots, sometimes you need to get back to basics, and 13 Hours is a good enough place to start.

The chemistry between the men is a really good point of the film. While they don’t have to act much, the downtime between the sprawling gunfights is actually quite entertaining. The jokes they make to each other, even in the darkest moments of the film, are fun and it’s almost endearing watching them trying to make each other laugh and smile while faced with overwhelming odds.

The gunfights are the meat of the film and they don’t disappoint. The film obviously has it’s Michael Bay moments (explosions and slow-motion are littered throughout) but it fits the setting and the story. The gunfights happen for several minutes at a time and for the entirety you are on the edge of your seat. It feels similar to films such as Black Hawk Down or something like the opening to Saving Private Ryan. Gunfire is going off, bombs are dropping all around and the camerawork conveys it very well. It’s not obnoxious shaky-cam for the sake of shaky-cam, it feels more like a documentary with several moments of steady shot in between the explosions going off.

The comparison to other films is abundant throughout. There is even a moment when the film uses the same point-of-view shot of the bomb from Pearl Harbor, but the film does carve out some of its own unique shots. There are some lovely moments of camerawork, ranging from helicopter sweeps of the city to intense close-ups of the men, or of white bedsheets stained red from the night’s fighting, each one reminding the audience that Michael Bay isn’t just here to create mindless action.

Some people have been quick to politicise the film, but even Bay himself said it’s not a political film. The story sticks very close to the members of the security detail, staying with them instead of exploring the outside context. I think this actually helps the film, we see the situation from their eyes, they don’t know why things are happening and neither do we. We just have to sit tight and let the film play out. It’s almost like a horror film, there is a great sense of claustrophobia within the compound that the men hole up in, with militia closing in on all sides and no-one in the outside world is coming to help.

In the end, I think 13 Hours might be Michael Bay’s best film. While some might think that’s not a long list, that shouldn’t dismiss 13 Hours action credentials. If you like war films, or even things like the Call of Duty or Medal of Honor series, 13 Hours will suit you fine.

Score: 7/10 Good for a couple of hours of fun.

Pain And Gain Review

Preface

Pain And Gain has been the source of controversy between film critics. As a film it has been criticised as one of the most loathsome evil films of all time while others say it is a hilarious crime caper. I finally got a copy and now two years after it came out, here is my response.

Review

Pain And Gain stars Mark Wahlberg, Dwanye “The Rock” Johnson and Antony Mackie as well as Ed Harris and Rebel Wilson and is directed by Michael Bay. Based on the true story of The Sun Gym Gang, Pain And Gain follows Daniel Lugo (Wahlberg), Paul Doyle (Johnson) and Adrian Doorbal (Mackie) as three steroid abusing bodybuilders, who kidnap a local businessman and extort his millions of dollars from him.

Let’s start with the positive. To me the film looks lovely. Michael Bay is usually criticised for his overuse of saturated colour within his films, but here it works. Being set in Miami, the film is awash with suntanned people driving bright-coloured supercars and wearing even brighter, garish clothing. It’s the epitome of excess and greed, and the film capitalises on it to no end.

The acting by all is well done. While Wahlberg is doing his trademark “bro” character that we’ve seen in nearly all of his films, he balances it out with a healthy dose of menace and outright evil at some points in the film. He would be scary if he weren’t so pathetically idiotic. Antony Mackie does well as Wahlberg’s sidekick, and is somehow even less intelligent, but Mackie does a good job of showing how frustrated his character is at always being number two to Wahlberg’s. Our third criminal is Dwayne Johnson, who is probably the most likeable of a group of robbers and murderers, because he is so earnest and almost has a childlike innocence. Ed Harris meanwhile does a role he could do in his sleep, as a nosy private eye, and is probably the sanest and most level headed of anyone in the story. The chemistry between all these actors is brilliant, and it’s in these interactions where most of the laughs come from rather than the sometimes over-bloated set pieces.

The music is also of highlight in Pain And Gain. Being set in the mid 90s, we have a wide selection of classic rap songs, such as Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise. The main theme of the film is also of note, as a sort of faux-inspiring guitar solo that seems to be right at home with the eccentric bodybuilders we spend the film with.

Now to the bad. The main point of contention I and many other critics have with the film is the set up. As the film is set up as a comedy, things take a dramatic and jarring shift in tone when the bumbling gang kills real people. While director Michael Bay wants us to laugh at these three fools messing up, it’s hard to go along with the joke when a man they kidnap is set on fire and then ran over with a van. It’s this jarring shift in tone that set it apart from other comedy films that are based on true stories. For example, The Wolf Of Wall Street. The Wolf Of Wall Street is one of my favourite films, despite it being about the scummiest people on earth stealing people’s money. But I believe because we don’t see their victims, we don’t get a grating shift in tone as we do in Pain And Gain.

Another annoying trope of Michael Bay’s is his almost pornographic sensibilities. Bay’s camera seems to fawn over his various female actresses assets for creepily long periods of time and it becomes distasteful incredibly quickly.

In conclusion, Pain And Gain is a film that pulls in me in two directions. While it’s comedic chemistry between its leads left in nearly crying with laughter at several points the fact it takes so much pleasure in trying to portray real death as comedy makes me feel a little bit disgusted.  It’s a film of two halves; you just have to take them both while watching it.

Score: 6/10 The comedy is almost enough to cover up the hideously vile and evil side of Pain And Gain.