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Dan's Review: "12 Strong" holds up, despite war movie cliches

Jan 18, 2018 06:30PM ● By Dan Metcalf

Chris Hemsworth in 12 Strong - © 2018 Warner Bros.

12 Strong (Warner Bros.)

Rated R for war violence and language throughout.

Starring Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Michael Peña, Navid Negahban, Trevante Rhodes, Geoff Stults, Thad Luckinbill, William Fichtner, Rob Riggle, Elsa Pataky, Austin Stowell, Ben O'Toole, Austin Hébert, Kenneth Miller, Kenny Sheard, Jack Kesy, Laith Nakli, Yousuf Azami, Saïd Taghmaoui, Fahim Fazli, Peter Malek, Allison King, Lauren Myers, Taylor Sheridan.

Written by Ted Tally and Peter Craig.

Directed by Nicolai Fuglsig.

GRADE: B

REVIEW:

In some ways, war movies are changing, but in other ways, they are exactly the same. Explanation: the setting for war movies are becoming more contemporary, with recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan still fresh in our memories. Yet, films based on modern warfare still rely on some of the same battle choreography and hero templates we’ve seen before in countless films about Vietnam and World War II. 12 Strong, based on the true story of U.S. Special Forces “Horse Soldiers” in Afghanistan shortly after 9/11 is in many ways all-too-similar to other war films, despite the modern venue.

Chris Hemsworth stars as Capt. Mitch Nelson (a fictionalized version of a real U.S. Special Forces commander), who gathers his team of commandos to volunteer for duty in Afghanistan after the events of 9/11. His team includes Chief Warrant Officer Cal Spencer (Michael Shannon), SFC Sam Diller (Michael Pena), SFC Ben Milo (Trevante Rhodes) and eight other Green Berets that are chosen to infiltrate Taliban and al-Qaeda strongholds. Mitch’s team’s assignment includes forming an allegiance with Genreal Abdul Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban), the enigmatic leader of a resistance sworn to overthrown the Taliban. Mitch’s team soon discovers that the only way to flank the Taliban/al-Qaeda troops is by horseback over rough mountain terrain. Their mission is to direct U.S. bombers to the enemy strongholds without getting killed within three weeks, before the snow cuts off their path. Mitch and Dostum go through a few rough patches before they are able to form a unified effort and head into battle against great odds. Their efforts lead them to a big showdown with the heart of the terrorists and Taliban armies.

12 Strong isn’t a bad film. There is great chemistry between Hemsworth, Shannon, Pena and the other members of the military ensemble. The dialogue between the soldiers is often funny and poignant, albeit peppered with a few military platitudes. The chemistry between Hemsworth and Negahban is also noteworthy, providing a showcase for unity in spite of cultural differences.

The action battle scenes in 12 Strong are the real problem. We see several shots of Hemsworth and the Americans riding at full gallop on horseback, firing their automatic weapons, hitting every single terrorist and bad guy, while avoiding all returning gunfire. It seems a little too ”John Wayne,” not befitting any kind of realistic modern warfare. I assume the work of the actual U.S. Special Forces to be a little less “Hollywood” and perhaps more tedious than depicted in 12 Strong. Without spoiling too much, I don’t think the odds of survival would be as good if the real “Horse Soldiers” had faced as much gunfire as they did in the movie. Speaking of casualties, a disproportionate number of the Taliban, al-Qaeda and Dostum’s army are slaughtered throughout the film as war fodder, while the Americans seem to face people firing blanks.

All war movie clichés aside, 12 Strong is a good depiction of brave men (including Afghans) who are willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice to stand up to evil.   

 

12 Strong Trailer