The Rise of Political Documentaries

Movies perceived to be political are often polarizing in how they are perceived and received publicly. This makes it difficult to get an review of such films.

In 2004, Fahrenheit 9/11 became the first politically motivated full-length feature films to play in theaters nationally, with some people going multiple times to the film to show their support of its message. It is the highest grossing documentary of all time. Depending on who you talk to, people either really like it or really dislike it.

Most recently, a film promoted heavily by Donald Trump and other Republican presidential candidates is 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. Reviews of the film vary widely.

Politics Polarizes Reviews

Usually, when a film is popular with audiences, it’s equally popular with critics. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens has a 93% popularity among critics and the audience score is 90%. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes). The Revenant has an 83% popularity rating among critics and the audience score is 86%. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes). With political films, there’s a greater discrepancy among reviews.

With 13 Hours, the film is stuck in a tug-of-war game between Democrats who want to discredit the film and Republicans who want to use it as a piece of political propaganda.

Sophia McClennen writing for Salon states, “’13 Hours’ shows us that the delusion and aggression that drove the plot of ‘American Sniper’ has gotten even worse.'” The tile of her article is The sickness within the GOP: “13 Hours,” “Fox News” and the Republican paradox.

Peter Bradshaw for The Guardian wrote this review: “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi review – like playing Call of Duty for 72 hours” which given the rise in popularity of first person shooter games could be a criticism or an endorsement of the film.

Writing from a conservative viewpoint, John Hinderaker provides an analysis of the data used to discredit the film. His article is “Audiences Rejecting 13 Hours? Not Exactly.”

Other reviews also seemed to align with the general political allegiances of the media outlets producing them.

Agregate Ratings Vary Widely

On the 13-Hours Rotten Tomatoes page, The ‘critics’ score is 56% but the audience score is 87%. That’s a huge discrepancy. The number that often gets published through social media is the critics score, so that’s the one that matters. Presumably those who go to see the film are predisposed to liking it.

The Apple web page for the film provides a 72% aggregate positive review.

The Internet Movie Database (IMDB.com) 13 Hours page has a 7.6 out of 10 rating for the film (76%).

So, reviews for 13 Hours range from 56% to 76%.

About the Director

Michael Bay, the director of 13 Hours, has had a string of successful box office hits including Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, Bad Boys I & II, and the Transformer series. His 11 films have grossed more than $5 Billion combined.

If the film was free of political baggage, it would likely be as well received as his other films, or action films in general.

In making 13 Hours, Michael Bay worked directly with the soldiers who were in Benghazi. According to the soldiers, the film isn’t about politics, but was produced out of a desire to share their first-hand experiences and stories about what actually happened.

Video Clips About the Movie

In the various promotional trailers, clips, interviews, and featurettes below, the film appears to be another action film about military engagement.

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