This series focuses on the one and only Michael Bay. Attempting to deconstruct his filmography, one film at a time. The ideas explored here may or may not end up in my Dissertation about Michael Bay and Post-Cinema.
And to answer the question: Does it ever rain in a Michael Bay movie?
The story goes that Michael Bay wanted to direct BLACK HAWK DOWN, but Ridley Scott got the rights to the story before he did. Then it was the rights to the book, LONE SURVIVOR but Peter Berg snapped them up.
Then he got his chance to direct an American war film with 13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF THE BENGHAZI in 2016.
This is Bay’s lowest grossing film to date, but it is also his most mature. If TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION was Michael Bay coming to terms with his place in a world of CGI and green screen, 13 HOURS is Bay finally making a serious film that actually works.
I am not going to go into the plot, or the politics, or the quality of the script, or the historical inaccuracies compared to the real event, I am only interested in how Bay shoots the main action sequence, i.e. the compound and annex attacks. And I applaud the fact that Bay actually managed to create a solid, gritty, well-choreographed action thriller.
I observed in the past that throughout Bay’s filmography that the action sequences whilst tactile and tangible, they are weightless and lacking in geographical coherence. Whilst definitely intentional, the films suffer. In 13 HOURS we understand what is happening, when and where.
Gritty is a word to describe these sequences. The camera is handheld in more examples than not, thus creating an immediacy and a different kind of confusion. This is intentional, as the actual event is one of confusion and surreal interactions. There is a tension and a confusion over the identity of any potential hostiles.
When the bullets and rockets ricochet, there are sparks, explosions, debris flying everywhere. The layers of the frame are filled with texture. The tactility and tangibility of the action adds to the immediacy. The gunfire is almost at Mann levels of noise and impact.
The mortar attack and consequent deaths isn’t played in a bombastic way despite the use of the POV shot. This shot has been featured in the past in Bay movies, but here it has a different use, there is tension to the flight through the air as though it is invading a space where it doesn’t belong.
Michael Bay’s commitment to real effects, on location action, and practical stunts should be lauded. Here in 13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF THE BENGHAZI it manufactures a grittiness and present action. The score by Lorne Balfe adds to this effect of a present action, the piano and percussive elements mediating the action.
Michael Bay has no interest in the politics of America and the responsibility, Bay clearly focuses on the attack itself as it is happen and the ground forces caught in the middle.
Does it rain? It’s Libya, in September. No.
Next up: The final(….?) TRANSFORMERS