Film may upset Clinton's campaign

The release of 13 Hours may remind audiences of the most controversial episode during Hillary Clinton's tenure as secretary of state

Set to release in January, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi, which stars John Krasinski (above), focuses on real-life CIA security contractors who defied orders to defend a State Department compound and nearby CIA annexe in Benghazi.
Set to release in January, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi, which stars John Krasinski (above), focuses on real-life CIA security contractors who defied orders to defend a State Department compound and nearby CIA annexe in Benghazi.PHOTO: YOUTUBE

LOS ANGELES • "We got nobody backing us up here. Nothing."

If things go by the script, that line will soon be spoken by actor John Krasinski in Michael Bay's movie version of the Sept 11, 2012, terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya.

But Mrs Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state when the United States ambassador to Libya, Mr J. Christopher Stevens, was killed in the assault, may be the one feeling exposed.

For release by Paramount Pictures on Jan 15, Bay's film - called 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi - will land just two weeks before party caucuses in Iowa.

For audiences across the country, it recalls the most controversial episode of Mrs Clinton's tenure as secretary of state, and one her campaign aides have been trying to put behind them, just before the most critical contest in the Democratic presidential contest.

An unabashed action movie, 13 Hours will focus on the heroics of real-life CIA security contractors who defied orders, and two of whom died, in an attempt to defend a State Department compound and nearby CIA annexe in Benghazi.

Republican critics of Mrs Clinton have for years tried to tie what they say was her mismanagement at the State Department to the attack, but that argument has largely been relegated to conservative media, not a mainstream Hollywood blockbuster.

In the new film, Krasinski, best known for his role in The Office TV series, plays contractor Jack Silva, who survived the attack. James Badge Dale, from World War Z, plays Tyrone S. Woods, another contractor who did not.

Scenes in the film's trailer align with a draft, from late last year, of a script by Chuck Hogan, based on a book by Mitchell Zuckoff.

In it, Hogan does not mention Mrs Clinton, President Barack Obama or almost any other identifiable Washington official.

The film, which is still being edited, is faithful to Zuckoff's account and strains to avoid political tilt, said people briefed on its progress who spoke on condition of anonymity because of confidentiality strictures.

"While the events have been the subject of continuous heated debate, few have heard or seen the story told from the perspective of these brave men because it has been largely lost amid the political back and forth," Erwin Stoff, a producer of the film, said in a statement.

In any case, 13 Hours promises to leave millions of viewers pondering uncomfortable questions about Benghazi precisely when the Clinton campaign will be working to put the issue away.

"We're reminders of the sacrifice they're not prepared to make," says Dale's character, Tyrone "Rone" Woods.

It is one of several biting lines about the gap between officialdom and those mired in ground truth, this one delivered in a military bull session just before the attack.

The Republican-led congressional investigation into the attack in Benghazi led to Mrs Clinton's current headaches about her use of a private e-mail server at the State Department, after the committee discovered she had conducted official business exclusively with a private e-mail account.

In the coming months, some issues that have figured in the congressional investigation - particularly, whether the State Department provided insufficient protection for Mr Stevens during a visit to the Benghazi diplomatic compound on the anniversary of the Sept 11, 2001, attacks - will come alive in movie theatres.

"Republicans have already made clear they will use this movie to revive theories discredited by their own party's investigators to continue their admittedly partisan attacks against Hillary Clinton," said David Brock, author of The Benghazi Hoax and founder of Correct The Record, an outside group that defends Mrs Clinton.

"Maybe Hollywood will have better luck creating a conservative fantasy" than congressional Republicans have, he added. A spokesman for the campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

One stinging tag line at the end of the script points out that a CIA base chief who tried to delay the security contractors from aiding Mr Stevens was nonetheless awarded an agency medal.

It fulfills a sarcastic soldierly prediction in the script, made at the height of the action, that the base chief would be rewarded for his poor decisions.

Bay, whose films are known more for heat than enlightenment, has been publicly coy about his own political leanings.

"I don't feel the need to go out and tell people what to believe politically," he once told an interviewer who tried to build a case in magazine Mother Jones that Bay films such as Armageddon and Bad Boys II carried conservative messaging.

Whether 13 Hours makes an impression will depend partly on whether it can "jump the theatres", said Mr Christopher Lehane, a political consultant who has worked with the Clintons and helped promote Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11.

A political film with impact has to generate "questions from the press and public" and circulate information beyond theatrical viewers, he said in an e-mail last week.

As for the January release of 13 Hours, the date may have less to do with presidential politics than an attempt by Paramount to capitalise on a seasonal market that has been good to action films in recent years.

This year, the big January hit was Taken 3, with Liam Neeson; last year, it was Ride Along, with Ice Cube and Kevin Hart.

Although released last December, Clint Eastwood's American Sniper, which took in US$350 million (S$482 million) at the domestic box office, similarly prospered through January with its action-oriented and patriotic message.

Martin Luther King's birthday, Jan 15, "has been a historically great date as evidence by the success of American Sniper and Lone Survivor", a Paramount spokesman said.

According to one person briefed on the film's scheduling, Paramount executives briefly considered bumping the release to a date after the Iowa caucuses but concluded that any delay would simply push it closer to primaries and the general election.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 16, 2015, with the headline 'Film may upset Clinton's campaign'. Subscribe