Jeremy Lebens is a #Shakopee resident and reviews movies at TheDailyRotation.com.

Prolific action director Michael Bay steps out of the Transformers world and into the cinematic spotlight with his latest slice of wartime adrenaline titled 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. Bay surprisingly shows restraint as he pays respect to the fallen by way of a two and a half hour war film that sprays lots of bullets, bloodshed, while subtly slipping in some backdoor politics. 13 Hours is well-paced action film that shows the grueling truths of war, instead of filling your head with empty heroics.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is based on the true story of an undercover security team that comes to the rescue of a U.S. compound after the U.S. Ambassador is attacked in Libya.

It’s a film unlike most of Michael Bay‘s work, focusing less on the explosions and violence and more so on the murky dynamics of war and the hell that each and every soldier is put through, despite which side of the battlefield they come from.

Some might be turned off by Bay’s growth of maturity as he levels back his usual antics for a film that looks and feels like actual combat footage come to life, thanks to Bay’s use of digital cameras and a solid cinematographer.

I personally didn’t care for the ugly and smudged look of the film. I feel that digital cameras make war films look absolutely horrid and messy, but that’s exactly what Bay’s latest film is about, which makes the use of the cameras appropriate and understandable.

I know I mentioned earlier that 13 Hours shows a different side of war in Bay’s eyes, because of the respect he pays for the soldiers and the story, but that doesn’t mean that the film isn’t a piece of American wartime propaganda. It’s just not an offensive one, which makes the film feel slightly refreshing compared to other recent war films.

13 Hours sides with the Americans, but it doesn’t forget to touch up on all causalities of war. It doesn’t make any of the action feel rewarding or look cool and instead paints a bloody and terrifying picture of war.

And that’s something that feels totally alien for a Michael Bay film. Gone are the gripping slow-mo shots of our hero jumping through the air in an over-the-top fashion as he fires bullets that make way for explosions galore. Instead, Bay shoots a slow-mo sequence featuring a beat up and battle-damaged man as he runs for his life as a mortar comes crashing down beside him.

It’s unrelenting and sad, watching as the bomb drops and blows someone halfway across the rooftop.

That isn’t to say that Bay doesn’t stretch his directing muscles and deliver us an action-heavy/explosion-featured film of war and violence. There’s still plenty of that to go around and Bay still manages to sneak in a few of his usual shots of sweaty men getting out of cars while wearing the coolest pair of shades that you’ve ever seen. Also, almost all of Bay’s leading men are supporting the manliest of manly beards. It’s an epic experience that should please just about any Bay fan.

But everything is followed with a strong dose of realism, with the film’s politics blending in more than they stick out. It’s just such a weird experience when you know Michael Bay‘s name is attached as the director.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is very much a Michael Bay movie. It’s a two and a half hour war film that’s loaded to the hills with action and swooping camera shots. But it’s also full of morals and characters that are forced to make tough decisions in a shitty situation.

It’s everything that we’ve come to expect from Michael Bay, but shot through a restrained and less exciting eye. Bay has always been the flashy action director and not so much the one worried about an actual story or characters. Not once does Bay glorify the action. Not once.

Does that make me a bad person for wishing that he did? It’s such a confusing and disappointing feeling walking into a movie, expecting a full-on Michael Bay action-fest and walking out having seen a mature war film that feels like Bay was holding out the entire time.

I’m not sure if this makes 13 Hours Michael Bay‘s most fully-formed film or not. But it’s definitely not his best. It shows a different side of the filmmaker that I honestly hope he never shows us again, unless he absolutely has to keep making Transformers films.

Until then, I’ll keep holding out for a proper R-rated Michael Bay war film, while 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi proves to be an effective war film, shot with unmatched realism. It’s easily one of the best modern day war films, thanks to Bay’s fly-on-the-wall direction and the attention to detail. It’s unlike anything that he’s ever done before.