’13 Hours’: Can Michael Bay Pull Off a Gritty Movie About Benghazi?
The real-life Benghazi, of course, was not awesome. It’s become politically radioactive, the stuff of right-wing conspiracy theories about cover-ups and stand-downs. Some pundits are salivating that the film might achieve what years of Republican inquests have not: “The movie Hillary Clinton should be very, very worried about,” trumpeted The New York Post. Even some folks involved with the film expect it to cause discomfort for some viewers: “It ain’t gonna change everybody’s view,” says Tiegen. “But for people who don’t know anything about [Benghazi], I guarantee they’re gonna come out of it with a bunch of questions.” For Bay, who has assiduously avoided any political stance deeper than anti-Decepticon and pro-midriff, it seems a surprisingly divisive topic to wade into. “Apparently, his mother told him not to do the movie,” says Stoff. “I believe her words were ‘What do you need that headache for?'”
Bay grew up in Los Angeles, the adopted son of an accountant and a child psychologist. He went to private school in Santa Monica, then studied film at East Coast liberal stronghold Wesleyan, yet somehow transcended these coastal-elitist roots to tap directly into the arteries of Main Street America. His patriotic tendencies were apparent even as a young commercial director, when he made ads for Coca-Cola, Levi’s, Budweiser, milk – pretty much the most American stuff imaginable. “I’ve always tried to be a true American,” Bay says today. “But 13 Hours is not a rah-rah America story. Quite the opposite.”
Bay says the main point of the movie is to honor the heroism of the guys, and he does. But in 2015, it’s also impossible to make a Benghazi movie that isn’t, by its very nature, politicized – at the very least adding fuel to a right-wing cause, even if it doesn’t explicitly share their conclusions. Hillary haters will probably be disappointed; neither she nor any other senior official is blamed, either by name or otherwise. But the film does allege several institutional failures, from a lack of sufficient security resources on the ground to the military’s failure to send assets (fighter jets, gunships) to help – despite official findings that none were available.
In making the movie, Bay had access to “way more than an investigative reporter. I want to believe everything the government tells us. But not everything adds up.” I ask if he believes there was a cover-up. “Some of the talking points are fishy,” he says, “but I don’t want to get into that. But we give you flight times. We give you mileage. They wanted F-16s there, anything making noise. Libya is not far [from Europe] – it’s like flying from L.A. to San Francisco. We are the strongest country in the world, and we could have acted better that night.”
The most contentious part of the movie will probably be the inclusion of a so-called “stand down” order on the ground. According to the CIA contractors, who were stationed at an annex about a mile from the compound, after the attack they tried to go help but were ordered to wait by the “chickenshit” CIA base chief, before saying “screw it” and going on their own. Multiple government investigations, including by both the House and Senate Intelligence committees, found that no “stand down” order was given; instead, the base chief prudently had them wait while he arranged sufficient backup. Nevertheless, “stand down” is in the movie.
“I trust every Senate report,” Bay says, grinning. “But this is a story about these guys – I’m going with what they say. In my heart, I believe this happened. If you know these operators, lying is not in their DNA.” (But for the record, Bay says, “If I were [the base chief], I would do the same thing.”)