There are two new movies out that take on recent controversial events.
They play like docudramas, ticking away real-life months, days, hours and minutes in events leading to crises -- crises that are still hotly debated.
One has an all-star cast. The other does not.
One is nominated for an Oscar as Best Picture. The other won't be eligible till next year.
One is loud and glitzy. The other is loud and gritty.
Both are saturated with testosterone.
But here's the thing: The heralded one with the huge buildup, the Oscar nomination and the big time cast is a meandering, sloppy mess. Meanwhile, the other, newer movie is tighter, fairer, more accurate and more thought-provoking.
And while they tell stories of entirely different events, they come at their subjects with the same mission: to tell it like it is/was.
In the Oscar-nominated The Big Short four comers in the world of high-finance predict the credit and housing bubble collapse of 2007, and decide to take on the big banks for their greed and lack of foresight. These four are played by Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell and Brad Pitt. They're all quirky, fidgety and idiosyncratic in a Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg sort of way. Among the four, Bale and Pitt are the standouts. As usual, Bale is so good that he actually inhabits the character and becomes a sort of all-consuming Nosterdamus as the film unfolds. Pitt is more nuanced, more subtle, more mature. And in the end, his is the definitive performance in this loud, raucous, in-your-face drama where characters stop the action to talk directly to the audience, scenes are played and replayed and a narrator plays tricks with the story, telling you one thing and then "correcting" himself to tell you what really happened.
On top of all that, there are celebrity guests who drop into the film to explain arcane economic terms and principles using everyday objects and activities. For example, Anthony Bourdain uses food and culinary devices to teach you about money, mortgages and management (or lack thereof). But all the cheap devices in the world can't save a movie that is just as hackneyed, just as manipulative and just as anti-capitalist as practically every other movie that Hollywood has ever made about business, finance and Wall Street. The Big Short is a confusing labyrinth that really leads nowhere.
Still, there are some newcomers who really shine in this flick, most notably Jeremy Strong as the smart, flip, intense Vinnie and Finn Wittrock as the zillionaire wannabe Jamie. Keep an eye on these two in the years ahead.
Now, onto the the far, far, better of the two.
13 Hours, The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi tells us that "when everything went wrong, six men had the courage to do what was right."
This is the story of how American Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed during an attack on our U.S. compound in Libya as a security team struggled to make sense out of the chaos, holding off attackers while waiting for help that never arrived.
First, understand this: 13 Hours does not take on the political issues surrounding the Benghazi debacle. There is no reference to President Obama or Hillary Clinton and neither are characters in the film. Nor do we get to see or hear from Trey Gowdy. None of them are part of this movie.
13 Hours is a riveting, thorough, accurate depiction of the events leading up to the rout at Benghazi and the attack itself.
This is a fast-paced action drama that unfolds in a familiar narrative fashion with a story that is told through the lives of two active-duty special ops officers and five CIA operatives. Four people were killed in the Battle of Benghazi: Ambassador Stevens, foreign service information officer Sean Smith and CIA contractors Tyrone S. Woods and Glenn Doherty. Both Woods and Doherty were former Navy Seals.
In tone and content 13 Hours is very similar to American Sniper. It takes us inside the hearts, lives and minds of the courageous warriors who defend our nation in some of the most dangerous places on earth. It also reveals the adrenaline rush these warriors get out of combat, their need to keep going back for more and their apparent inability to make smooth transitions from the battlefield to the everyday world we take for granted.
As far as we can tell, this film is faithful to the facts and the story. It shows what happened (and what didn't happen) and let's you make up your own mind.
The entire cast is excellent but we'd be remiss if we did not mention the compelling John Krasinski, David Denman, Demetrius Grosse and David Constable.
This is an intelligent, captivating film that is worth your time and money. Don't miss it!