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’13 HOURS’: AN OUTSTANDING, PRO-AMERICAN FILM — So Where Is the Conservative Support?

For me, one of life’s bummers is a truly worthy film — one not just skillfully executed but redemptively impactful on the viewer — going unrewarded at the box office. This calls to mind such exceptional cinematic gems as Warrior, A Perfect World, The Road, many others; each one commendable; an example of art that, as John Stonestreet describes it, penetratingly “point[s] to the deep truths about life and the world”; yet each one a ticket-sales disappointment.

Which brings me, alas, to the familiar, unwelcome feeling that met me at a late-night, sparsely attended screening of 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, director Michael Bay’s explosive treatment of the September 11, 2012 terror attack on two U.S. installations in Libya. An opening inscription declares flatly that the story is “true”. In the run-up to 13 Hours‘ release, interviews with survivors, additionally, confirmed its accuracy — making this film all the more deserving of critical acclaim and substantial earnings. 

Four Americans — Ambassador Chris Stevens, Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith and CIA security contractors/former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods — perished in the assault. The long and perilous night they, a handful of security personnel and a sizable group of CIA and State Department employees spent fending off what was, clearly, a pre-planned terrorism operation, with virtually no assistance from Washington, DC,  is compellingly framed: filmed, acted and paced with stirring effectiveness. 

The movie-going public’s response? Tepid, at best. 

Predictably, Hillary- and/or Obama-enamored potential audience members won’t go anywhere within spitting distance of this disturbingly ripped-from-the-headlines dramatization. Yet, nowhere does 13 Hours explicitly or damningly name then-Secretary of State Clinton; and the word “Obama” never emerges during its 144 minutes (although there is a glancing reference or two to “the president”.) All that aside, what does throb throughout this movie, especially for those acquainted with the Libyan slaughter’s backstory, is the Executive Branch’s failure to step up expeditiously on behalf of this crew of brave Americans. It’s, at minimum, an unflattering reflection on both the aforementioned commander in chief and commander-in-chief wannabe . True enough, while only tactfully dinging BHO and Hillary, it nonetheless furnishes enough incriminating information that sentient ticket-buyers will connect the maddening dots.

This Paramount release, moreover, boasts no major stars. Some recognizable TV and film faces turn up (James Badge Dale, John Krasinski, Max Martini), but no marquee players.

All of which makes it even more encouragingly, impressively gutsy this flick was ever green-lit for big-screen treatment in the first place. 

So — where is support from traditionalist, pro-military, America-loving conservatives who ought to naturally gravitate to this kind of film fare? Those who’d find it riveting, infuriating, inspiring and entertaining on a certain level (even though, I readily admit, use of that last descriptor seems squirmingly inappropriate for a work this grim and heartbreaking)? Where are those regularly demanding more pop cultural offerings like 13 Hours and who should, accordingly, be underwriting it with their dollars? 

They haven’t much shown up for this motion picture. On the eve of its fourth weekend in widespread circulation, 13 Hours has yet to earn back just its production costs, never-mind the doubtlessly steep outlays for its ambitious promotional efforts. And it’s unlikely Bay’s project will score big bucks overseas — it’s pretty persistently pro-USA; refreshingly so, in fact. Further, it subjects North African/ Islamic society to unsparing and unappealing scrutiny: the American enclosures are virtual paradises of cleanliness and comfort compared to the garbage-heap neighborhoods (“Zombieland”) surrounding them. These kinds of observations, definitely p.c. no-no’s to 2016 Western sensibilities, are usually even less well-received abroad.

Bluntly: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is undeservedly bombing.

I have little patience for Hollywood-is-going-to-Hell complainers who studiously refuse to engage the culture in discriminating and responsible ways, while rarely bypassing any opportunity to shake their heads reproachfully and bellyache about its handiwork. These retain little right to bark about the corrupt and corrupting film industry if they decline to influence it for the better when a door opens to do so.

In Who Speaks for God, the late Charles Colson tells about dining with a major television network president, griping to him about the abundance of morally offensive programming and lobbying for more decent, elevating stuff. “After all,” he added, “there are 50 million born-again Christians out there.” 

“What you are suggesting is that we run more programs like, say, Chariots of Fire?” baited the entertainment big-wig.

“Yes!” Colson exclaimed.

His dinner companion then closed the trap: mere months earlier, his network had featured the Academy-Award winning flick — in prime time, to boot! Few tuned in. The broadcast tanked, a painful ratings and money loser, third in its time slot. 
Then, the exec’s coup de grâce : “[W]here are your 50 million born-again Christians, Mr. Colson?”

I’m not making the case for honorable people’s settling for aesthetic  dreck, filmed-in-the-basement production values or treacly story lines. I am insisting those concerned about the timbre of modern culture bang the table for quality — both in stylistic presentation and in subject matter; edifying options, done well. 

But when such appears — on silver or little screen — or in any medium (literature, music, theater) — the perpetual grumblers have a duty to signal their attaboys via their time-investment and their wallets. Set aside a couple of hours. Buy a ticket. Talk it up. 

Those longing for more popular entertainment which models noble themes, estimable qualities and truths which will make men — and America — better ought to make the effort to see 13 Hours — and quickly, before it’s demoted from megaplex- to DVD-status; or to Wal-Mart’s discount bin.

The film’s main headliner, John Krasinski,  has publicly deplored the “politicizing” of the movie, those using it “as a political football”. He’s specifically singled out for chiding Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Focus on the heroes, “acknowldeg[e] these guys”,  is Krasinski’s understandable plea. 

Then again, I’d counter that paying to view 13 Hours, pushing it, underscoring the history behind it is one way to honorably focus on the valiant souls who fought — some of whom died — on that fateful night three-and-a-half years ago; setting aside time, plunking down cash to take in their grievous story; being reminded of those high-profile folks who had a role in execrably enabling it. One of them, recall, wants to be our next president.

Caution: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi contains harsh language and violence.

Image: Screen Shot: Trailer:

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Steve Pauwels

Steve Pauwels is pastor of Church of the King, Londonderry, NH and host of Striker Radio with Steve Pauwels on the Red State Talk Radio Network. He's also husband to the lovely Maureen and proud father of three fine sons: Mike, Sam and Jake.

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