A little over three years ago, on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Islamic militants attacked the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi. While an official report on the incident will be released later this year, two things are certain: First, four Americans were killed in the attack. Second, dozens more could’ve died had it not been for the response from a small group of CIA contractors (former soldiers) who sprang into action without orders. In the current presidential race, the Benghazi Attack is brought up nearly every other day as politicians continue to point fingers in search of someone to blame. The latest film from Michael Bay – 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi – doesn’t focus on who’s to blame or how it could’ve been prevented. Instead, it tells the story of what six men did with their given situation, and how they prevented a devastating assault from turning into complete destruction.

Audiences who have seen the trailer or poster for 13 Hours notice that it looks like a typical Michael Bay movie: Handsome male protagonists facing deadly odds by blowing a lot of stuff up. However, Bay’s latest films marks a dramatic decrease in the outlandish action he’s become known for, as well as a larger focus on characters and story. That’s not to say that 13 Hours isn’t full of thrilling action sequences; it is an “action war thriller”, after all. This time around, however, Bay has crafted realistic and tightly coordinated action sequences that highlight the danger that every American in the diplomatic compound and CIA Annex found themselves in. The accuracy of the film is further bolstered by a gutsy adaptation of Mitchell Zucker’s novel 13 Hours by author and screenwriter Chuck Hogan (The Town, The Strain). Whether Bay chose this direction as a response to criticisms that have plagued his last few films, or to avoid trivializing the harrowing, real-life events on which the film is based, is unclear; but the result adds an overall gritty realism to the film.

Critics are also praising the rugged ensemble cast of 13 Hours. Terrific performances from James Badge Dale, John Krasinski, and the other actors in their “unit” simultaneously provide elements of tragedy and heroism to the thrilling storyline. Emotional investment in the characters is crucial to a film like this. The ensemble cast deftly inspires audiences with their heroism, which in turn draws in the audience and provides levels of anticipation when they face certain peril. The film mirrors and amplifies the concern and fear of the American people and sympathetic, non-militant Libyan citizens when they first learned of the real-life attack.

Unlike Bay’s superb WWII epic, Pearl Harbor, where a fictional love story was used to frame and enhance the infamous attack; the heart and suspense of 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi derives much more from the actual events and the relationships between those involved. The movie isn’t about politics, explosions, or religion: It’s about regular people reaching deep inside themselves to do what they know is right. Despite Bay’s more minimal style of directing, the tension and heroism woven throughout undeniably make this a classic Michael Bay film. Find showtimes and tickets for 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi here.