It’s January, and that means the pickings at the local multiplex are among the leanest and least ambitious of the year. Enter—loud, blustery, rousing, paper-thin—12 Strong.
Excitingly directed by newcomer Nicolai Fuglsig (Exfil) and based on Doug Stanton’s harrowing non-fiction bestseller 12 Strong: The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers, the movie version is a yay-us (or yay-U.S.), Jerry Bruckheimer-produced, post-9/11 rabble-rouser and flag-waver.
The real-life mission and men involved are worth much better than this dramatization and mythologizing of the exploits, sacrifices, suffering, bravery and triumphs of the dozen intrepid U.S. Special Forces team secreted into Afghanistan. They were the first to respond once the Twin Towers were reduced to rubble, and sent to track down and checkmate the Taliban and their Al-Qaeda allies.
It’s horses against armored tanks, ideologies vs. ideologies, trust vs. mistrust.
The facts of the daring mission certainly have “action blockbuster” and “action heroes” scrawled all over in big bold letters. After all, these Green Berets had only themselves to rely on, were kept completely in the dark about what they were getting into and if they didn’t survive the impossibly hostile terrain and an estimated 50,000 Taliban fighters, no one would ever know why.
The nuance and subtlety-free movie’s action–and there’s plenty of it—is elemental. For nearly the entire 130-minute running time, Fuglsig’s immersive, in-your-face style of filmmaking almost makes us feel like we’re imbedded with these regular family guys, grunts and brass, as they battle incredibly hostile mountainous terrain and weather conditions. The roles are earnestly and likably played by Chris Hemsworth (who fits the bill as the squadron leader), Michael Pena, Austin Stowell, Trevante Rhodes, Michael Shannon, William Fichtner, Rob Riggle.
They’re charged with trying to persuade cranky Northern Alliance General Dostum (nicely played by Navid Negahban) to band together with them to take on their common enemy. From there on in, it’s horses against armored tanks, ideologies vs. ideologies, trust vs. mistrust.
The script gets credited to Peter Craig (the first two Hunger Games installments, The Town) and Ted Tally (screenplay adaptations of The Silence of the Lambs, All the Pretty Horses and Red Dragon). But their combined pedigree doesn’t much help the movie rise above the level of a simplistic, hero-worshiping old-time Western or war flick, complete with foxhole homilies and–back home—loving wives and adorable moppets missing their daddies.
It’s a nicely made movie, well-cast and—once the dozen achieve their mission—things all work out in the end. Which tends to go over well in movies, though much less so in real life with real wars.
Read more of Stephen Rebello’s movie reviews here.