Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
In the post 9/11 era of filmmaking we've seen countless films centered about the war on terror. In some cases, the films often resemble a a heroic story that is usually encompassing. They're not hard to make, because it's easy to get us interested with a hooking plot (see "Lone Survivor") or a cheap gimmick ("Act of Valor" employed real Navy seals to sell tickets). But you can definitely pinpoint the difference between an excellent one and a subpar one. War movies tend to manipulate our feelings, sure it's amusing to see our brother in arms fight for our country, but is the story really that well executed? The good news about "12 Strong" is that it doesn't slam it's message of resilience down your throat, but it cuts corners, and runs a lengthy 130 minutes. This movie is watchable, but at certain points it really prods.
Recently declassified a few years back, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood got their grubby paws on the option to make a film about the horse soldiers. A group of 12 men that led the first victory in the war on terror. All on horseback. And with a Captain that had no combat experience. It offers a nuanced balance of heroics and plotting (the nicest compliment I can give is that it has remnants of "Zero Dark Thirty" sprinkled throughout). Ironic enough, the cast is lead by Australian hunk Chris Hemsworth, and while he may not be, per say, American, he has the asgard like physique of someone we want fighting our battles. He's Captain Mitch Nelson, and he, like everyone in his flank, stood in shock watching the twin towers crumble from the worst attack on our nation's soil.
Nelson comes out of retirement and requests his old team back. And since there's 12, we really only get to focus on about three or four. There's Hal Spence played by Michael Shannon, a communications specialists that has eyes in the sky at all times; Sam Diller (Michael Pena) a former history teacher that found himself in the military after some questionable moral decisions; and Ben Milo ("Moonlight's" Trevante Rhodes) who developes this side plot with a small Afghanistan boy which never transpires the way you want it to.
Under the fierce orders of Colonel Mulholland (William Fichtner sporting an odd bald cap) the team heads into enemy territory. The goal is for "Taskforce Dagger" to link up with a diplomat named General Dostum (Navid Negaban) - the leader of the Northern Alliance, a group of mercenaries that fight the Taliban and have intel to the whereabouts of Mullah Razzan (Numan Acar) a warlord that slaughters families, and has built an army of Taliban warriors.
Director Nicolai Fuglsig, in his first big studio picture, struggles at times to keep up with his own pacing. For as long as this triade is: I couldn't believe the under characterization of our comrades. I felt like I didn't know any of them. Shannon and Rhodes in particular disappear for most of the movie and Hemsworth, with his stoic presence, mostly gets the job done I just wish I understood their backgrounds.
It's not until the last hurrah where "12 Strong" comes alive. The final showdown is staged exceptionally well and it's an extremely satisfying finale, that highlights the best of what former big-name blockbuster producer Jerry Bruckheimer does best. Not that the film cares about much else, like the aftermath of the whole incident. The effects that trickled down from the attack doesn't really come to fruition, which proves to be frustrating. Further proving that "12 Strong" is more focused on explosions than actual facts. That's fine, but when you present such a fluid dynamic and chemistry of these 12 characters, you'll have to forgive me if I wish to be invested in their success. C+