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Armond White

Don’t Ask, Do Tell

Image via 13 Hours trailer

Military drag makes 13 Hours the sexiest movie of the week.

"I love a man in a uniform," sang the post-punk British band Gang of Four. That highly danceable tune about political and romantic indoctrination could as well be the theme song of the new Michael Bay movie 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. It's the secret in the subtitle that intrigues.

13 Hours pays homage to the team of elite contractors--former Navy SEALS--who defended the U.S. Embassy and a nearby CIA annex on September 11, 2012. Four Americans died in that tragedy, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, but the film doesn't specifically detail that (or the political controversy surrounding the circumstances of the terrorist siege). It's really your basic action movie, turning political tragedy into escapism and using speed, energy, strength, force, and courage as romanticized definitions of masculinity.

In other words, the actors portraying Tyrone "Rone" Woods (James Badge Dale), Kris "Tonto" Paranto (Pablo Schreiber), Dave "Boon" Benton (David Denman), John "Tig" Tiegen (Dominic Fumusa), Mark "Oz" Geist (Max Martini) and Jack Silva (John Krasinski) are hot.

But 13Hours isn't just a testosterone strut down a cat walk. It enshrines a specific type of hypermasculinity as a principle of camaraderie and that makes it gay. "There's something to be said for the life of men among men," Marlon Brando memorably said with a southern twang as gay Army Major Pendleton in Reflections in a Golden Eye.

Who ever tweeted the scurrilous lie that the lumbersexual beard was on its way out will have to delete that tweet after seeing 13 Hours. The elite soldiers' facial hair is part of their government-issue sexiness. It's a visible passcode that denotes their training, camaraderie and fidelity; the common bond, like the patriotic bond, that each of them will fight for and commit to sacrifice. A clean-cut, pants-creased soldier (squaddie, private or gunner) is also a man to respect but 13 Hours' bearded tribe denotes a measure of experience. In contrast to the Harvard-grad CIA wonks they're assigned to protect, these grunts are lions.

The look of scruff has a sensual quality, alternately rough or soft. Matched to their forceful, disciplined movements and purposed virility this new militarized look provides a sense of character--personality through iconography. They're all tough looking (even Krasinski, hulkish after from his role on The Office, has man-upped). Still, they're all boys together. The best part of their camaraderie is the jokes they exchange, the confidences they share, the harmony of tenor and bass.

Aside from Michael Bay's amazing, pyrotechnic battle scenes, the best moment in the film comes as Silva watches the short Libyan aide Amal (Peyman Moaadi) put on a helmet, carry a gun, and timidly join the fight. Silva's look of concern proves irresistible masculine sensitivity.

Long-faced, square-jawed Schreiber as Tonto has jock magnetism--the kind that distracts. His relationship to Amal is expressed in a line that is humorous yet heartfelt: "I'm gonna have to break-up with him." The round of laughter that follows is not from macho bullies but a compassionate, cross-cultural, sexually-open brotherhood.

13Hours could almost be recruiting poster propaganda. Hollywood's post-Vietnam attitude toward the military is usually skeptical yet the social option it offers has been real and admirable, especially since the armed forces opened-up after DADT. The repeal of DADT in 2011 also gave access to the role of the soldier for actors to portray with fresh sensitivity. During downtime, the fighters in 13Hours watch Robert Downey, Jr. in TropicThunder deliver the comic routine "I know who I am. I'm just a guy playing a dude disguised as another dude"--and they all repeat the line. It's double-edged: embracing the institution as a personal right and also embracing military drag without losing a sense of self.

In 13Hours, these living breathing G.I. Joes are more than just politically correct, they're also anatomically correct dolls.

13 Hours is out in theaters today. Watch the trailer below:

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Armond White