Monday, January 22

12 Strong Review

12 Strong

Dir: Nicolai Fuglsig

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Michael Pena, Navid Negahban, Trevante Rhodes. Geoff Stults, Thad Luckinbill, Austin Hebert, Austin Sitwell, Rob Riggle, and William Fichtner

Amidst fiery explosions, rockets flying overhead, and swirls of smoke billowing towards the sky, a group of American Special Forces soldiers ride atop horses with guns blazing; it’s a scene that feels straight out of a John Wayne film, if his war and western movies would crossover. Director Nicolai Fuglsig composes “12 Strong”, the true story of the Horse Soldiers who invaded Afghanistan after September 11th, with all the visual chaos familiar with a Jerry Bruckheimer/Michael Bay popcorn movie and the simplistic non-political patriotism of a John Wayne film.

On the morning of September 11th, Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) is enjoying his life in a new home with his family. The smoldering vision of the Twin Towers motivates Nelson to return to his Special Forces team and demand to be the first team on the ground in Afghanistan. A plan is devised to have the Special Forces team meet up with warlord General Dostum (Navid Negahban) to fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda forces who have created a stronghold in the mountains. Nelson and his team, realizing the critical nature of their mission, take to horseback and rough terrain to fight.

“12 Strong” moves at breakneck speed, before much can be established with the Special Forces team they are on the ground in Afghanistan taking shelter in a small village. It’s an quick transition but it doesn’t distract from what the film is trying to achieve, which is ultimately the conflict that will play out amidst gunfire and explosions. To this point, Mr. Fuglsig does a decent job of keeping everything appealing, the battle scenes are flashy and fervent while the camaraderie of the team is provided humorous moments that immediately connect the viewer with the group of soldiers. 

It’s a simple war movie, tough guys in a tough situation making tough choices that put them in danger for sake of the greater good. There is nothing wrong with that quality, “12 Strong’ will play just fine during the 2-hour plus run time. Unfortunately the good feeling is fleeting and that will make it somewhat unmemorable in the long run. The film never takes a look at the larger picture of war and the relationships of these men. The politics, that will come to identify domestic and foreign relationships between different countries in the ensuring conflict, is mentioned in small moments when shifts in the narrative are needed to motivate action. 

Still, there are some really interesting aspects hinted at in a few scenes. The relationship between a young boy tasked with protecting an American soldier is touching and fascinating while the push and pull for power and respect between Nelson and Dostum has such potential for expanding these characters. Once the battles start happening more consistently, the story takes a back seat.

The performances here are committed, each actor is trying to portray that look-danger-in-the-eye mentality in every scene. Non are provided introspection, these are simply soldiers doing their job. That’s a nice quality at times. Mr. Hemsworth plays the lead with confidence and Michael Shannon is offered a few moments to put his unique touch on the character; surprisingly the best character in the film is General Dostum played by Navid Negahban who has a mentor/teacher structure with Mr. Hemsworth’s character. This is the best part of the film, the moments when culture, respect, and servitude clash between two men who are pursuing the same goal but for completely different reasons is intriguing

“!2 Strong” will satisfy those looking for a unique war story, unfortunately it may not have the lasting power of some of the greater war films. The simplistic structure and one-sided narrative design are the biggest problems here, however the charming quality of the cast and straightforward war mentality will keep this more positive than negative.

Monte’s Rating

3.00 out of 5.00

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