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13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
  • Composed by Lorne Balfe
  • Paramount Music / 2016 / 52m

13 Hours purports to tell the true story of an attack by terrorists on the American diplomatic compound in the Libyan city of Benghazi in 2012, though its historical accuracy has been the subject of much debate.  It’s a rare foray into filmmaking for adults by its director Michael Bay, whose previous four films have all been Transformers or the execrable Pain and Gain, and it has received mixed reviews, which in Bay’s case is about as good as it gets.  Surprisingly the score isn’t by the director’s usual composer Steve Jablonsky, with Bay opting instead for someone capable of sounding exactly the same (or not), Lorne Balfe.  I wondered if it would be a musical sequel to the exceptional Black Hawk Down, one of the finest Remote Control scores, a great piece of raw chaos and supreme visceral energy; and in certain ways there are some superficial similarities, but surprisingly it goes off in rather different directions most of the time.

There’s a sweat-soaked feeling to the opening cue, “Hero”, which owes a debt to “Burning Bush” from Hans Zimmer’s The Prince of Egypt; then comes more the style that may have been expected, the lengthy “Welcome to Benghazi” all percussion and synths and darkness and if anything many of the later action cues are even bleaker – and while I can’t say I enjoy listening to them very much away from the film (and on occasion it gets so abrasive it’s somewhat repulsive, like “Engage Direct”), they’re certainly effective and appropriate.  The pick of the action is “The Last Resort”, which has a bit of a patriotic feel to it and a powerful dash of heroism.  More up my street in general are the softer, more contemplative cues, some of which offer genuine quality – “Calling Home” is very emotional, very sad; the lengthy “Forgotten” equally tragic, but with a noble quality (and a bit of “Journey to the Line”) added – with two instruments usually at the heart of them, piano and Peter Gregson’s electric cello.  It’s a well-constructed score, a lot of thought has gone into it and the action material may be very challenging to listen to but it’s not just brainless noise as sometimes can be the case.  I doubt I’m going to be listening to 13 Hours that much in the years to come, but it’s not a bad piece of work by any means.

Rating: *** | |

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