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13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi by Lorne Balfe (Review)

posted Jan 13, 2016, 4:10 PM by Kaya Savas

13 Hours will be a score that will get people talking mainly because they’re going to ask, “What happened to Steve Jablonsky?”. It’s always an attention grabber when a notable director/composer collaboration is put on hold or ends entirely. We aren’t completely sure of the reason here as Jablonsky was actually never even attached to the project. Stepping in is one of the most notable composers busily churning out great work recently, Lorne Balfe takes on the challenge of scoring a film based on a fairly recent wartime event. Lorne is also no stranger to working with Michael Bay as he served as an additional composer on Transformers 1 & 2.

I’m sure there will be plenty of comparisons of 13 Hours to last year’s patriotic war film, American Sniper. American Sniper was accused of being propaganda and I’m sure this one will be too given that Michael Bay takes a lot more heat from critics than Clint Eastwood. Bay has a great history of support for the United States military, so even though I anticipate critics bashing Bay for glorifying the attacks, it’s really his way of honoring the American soldiers involved. While Bay’s films are always over the top in action, including the score, it’s probably this reason why Lorne Balfe was brought in to make sure things stay grounded in reality over fantasy.

Looking at the modern warfare genre, there are many examples of how to do it including Hans Zimmer’s Black Hawk Down, John Powell’s Green Zone, Thomas Newman’s Jarhead and yes even the supremely over the top Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 video game which Lorne happened to score. A notable thing here is that we don't have any ethnic instrumentation, which signals the score is keeping it from the American soldiers' point of view. The score here had to demonstrate the intensity of warfare and paint a heroic portrait of the soldiers all the while bringing the audience into the situation emotionally. The score does this by painting subtle undertones of heroism and focusing on the intensity of the situation at hand. Yes there is a theme, but it’s subtle and tasteful and not used inappropriately to make the soldiers feel like super heroes. Balfe relies heavily on structured percussion loops to build and sustain action to great effect. He strikes this fine balance of giving us emotional melodic hooks yet still maintaining a distance similar to how John Powell approached Green Zone. When the score is in the thick of it, it really is all hell breaking loose. The urgency and the stakes are all there. There’s no powerful melodic themes to come bursting through like Optimus Prime rolling into battle, and I think that is where Lorne succeeds in keeping this score grounded in reality versus fantasy. We resolve everything in a somber yet swelling emotional fashion with the powerful track “Forgotten”. The track “Going Home” is probably the only point where I felt the melodrama pushing its limits as it feels almost like a pop ballad is about to erupt, but it feels like something that would appropriately be in a Michael Bay film. The score then ends by giving us a sense of safety and closure while giving us a somber reprisal of the main theme.

13 Hours is simple in its approach, meticulous in its execution and powerful in its effect. Balfe manages to provide us with the visceral intensity of warfare while not going over the top in painting the portraits of our soldier protagonists. The score is thick and rich in its sound, and the action is pure adrenaline scoring in the best way possible. Some of the heroism echoed near the beginning pushes a little strong at the end, but by the close of it all it’s quite a powerful package that shines a light on many of Balfe’s strengths in the genre.