Directed by Michael “explosions” Bay, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi details over a month leading up to and during the 2012 Benghazi attack.

So, it’s actually almost 900 hours, not 13.

Anyway…

Everyone remembers Benghazi, right? One horde of Islamic extremists, plus four dead Americans, including a U.S. ambassador, multiplied by a storm of media mayhem and suspicion concurrent with the 2012 presidential elections equaled one stressful Thanksgiving dinner.

Don’t worry, all that’s apparently way too complicated to condense into a two and half hour movie. Instead, Michael Bay adapts Mitchell Zuckoff’s book of a similar title, written from the confused perspectives of the six covert contractors hunkered down too long in a barrage of bullets and mortar fire.

Bay impressed and surprised by humanizing the troops, the most memorable roles being John Krasinski (The Office) as Jack Silva and James Badge Dale (The Pacific) as Tyrone ‘Rone’ Woods. Jack watched his kids grow up and learned about his wife’s fourth pregnancy through Skype. Rone tucked a picture of his newborn beneath pounds of combat gear. The rest of the team read Joseph Campbell or played Call of Duty.

Bay emphasized that, regardless of the politics, these are average dudes in extraordinary circumstances whose lives are forever altered. Considering Bay’s immature and downright horrific Transformers films, this was a definite step up.

And then he overdid it.

We’ve all seen it before in war films. The sad piano music, the slow motion “Nooo!” while sparks and dirt rain down, tearing off the helmet with glassy eyes while kneeling before a fallen brother. Was this really how the soldiers acted?

And let’s not forget the American flag waving gently in the glimmer of the morning sun, then later wrinkled and torn following devastation. The soldiers noticed that in all those 13 hours of chaos?

Almost everything relating to the Benghazi attack and the people involved felt scripted or dramatized in some way. This works fine as piece of entertainment, but the film sacrifices realism, which tends to be important when telling a true story. It comes off as dishonest when audiences are trying to better understand or even care about this controversial story.

Was Michael Bay trying to make another action film or a biography? The answer seems to be something in between.

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