Watch a Documentary on the True Story Behind Michael Bay’s 13 Hours

By  · Published on January 12th, 2016

Fox News

Michael Bay has made movies based on true stories before, but 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is the first to be directly linked to real people and their own accounts of what occurred, as we see them on screen. The movie depicts the terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012, and is adapted from the 2014 book “13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi” by Mitchell Zuckoff in collaboration with members of the private security team who responded.

Those security operatives are the focus of Bay’s movie, portrayed by John Krasinski, David Denman, James Badge Dale, Pablo Schreiber, Max Martini and Dominic Fumusa. The men played by the first two were initially anonymous, Dale’s character, ‘Rone’ (Tyrone Woods), died during the incident and the latter trio represent the three most involved with the production. They are, respectively, Kris ‘Tonto’ Paronto, Mark ‘Oz’ Geist and John ‘Tig’ Tiegen. And back in 2014 they participated in another film on their story, similarly titled 13 Hours in Benghazi.

You could argue that it’s more of report than a documentary, but the 45-minute Fox News production is the closest thing we have to a nonfiction alternative to the dramatized feature reenactment version hitting the multiplexes this weekend. Seriously, these guys aren’t even in the Wikipedia entry about the attacks. 13 Hours in Benghazi centers around an interview by Fox Files host Bret Baier of Tonto, Oz and Tig, and that’s the predominant content. They discuss the night’s events chronologically with some minor additional footage included with separate narration plus a brief interview appearance from Zuckoff.

Retroactively, the documentary now functions as a full, firsthand plot spoiler for Bay’s 13 Hours, and you can even find parts in the latter’s trailers where things line up perfectly. Like the calling of the wives. And, most notably, of Rone saying they’re going to “lay down hate” (or “unleash hate”) on the terrorists. Both versions treat the men as heroes who didn’t need to go but did, with Baier seeming to emphasize that privatized military forces are the best hope in such a situation, especially against orders to stand down and wait for their turn as secondary responders.

Paramount Pictures

Unlike most doc options, 13 Hours in Benghazi is not likely preferential to seeing the action movie take, even if the latter seems to exploit tragedy for entertainment purposes. If you’re interested in this story, chances are you’d like to see it play out rather than just hear about it. At one point in the doc, the guys are asked what the battle looked like and Tonto answers, “It [was] gorgeous, man, awesome.” But those words are not enough, and clearly these guys think the experience was like being in a thrilling action movie, so they’d probably agree.

Unlike Bay’s previous movies inspired by true events, Pearl Harbor and Pain & Gain, 13 Hours does not mean to romanticize a monumental historical disaster nor turn a real tragic turn of events into comedy. It does involve dramatic manipulation and sentimentalizing score, so it shouldn’t be seen as an objectively realistic portrayal of that night, but despite expected criticisms (and those existing prematurely) it probably won’t be any less authentic, or specifically any less true to the perspectives of Tonto, Oz and Tig than the documentary version. The only possible major discrepancy could be with the Baier-led speculation that the security operatives would have saved US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and US Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith had they not been delayed by officials in their actions. Not that that would be too political, but it would be difficult to show cinematically.

Tonto, Oz and Tig returned to Fox New last week to promote the movie, in fact. In a much shorter interview, this time by Megyn Kelly, they stress that they are totally apolitical in their desire to tell and depict the attacks and response as they happened, implying that Bay’s movie is the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Ironically, Kelly employs the interview quite politically in a segment concentrated on how the movie and what it shows should be a blow to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Watch the first 15 minutes of 13 Hours in Benghazi via Fox News below. You can continue it here.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.