12 Strong (2018)
Directed by: Nicolai Fuglsig
Written by: Ted Tally and Peter Craig
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, William Fichtner, Michael Pena, Rob Riggle, Elsa Pataky, Trevante Rhodes, Geoff Stults, Navid Negahban
It’s 2018 and due to the current political and social climate America as a whole seems to be unsure of itself, lacking confidence and is becoming increasingly divided. Luckily for us, we have 12 Strong, a film about one of America’s greatest triumphant to life our spirits and remind us why we love to be American. I was admittedly unfamiliar with the true story 12 Strong is based on, and after seeing the film I felt really bad for my ignorance. This is without a doubt a story about heroes overcoming insurmountable odds to get the job done and it does that part extremely well, but as far as film goes,12 Strong falls short of making me care about anything else but seeing the good guys win.
12 Strong tells the real-life story of Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) and his Special Forces team as they are chosen to be the literal first men to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan after the September 11th attacks. This moment in history is fascinating to watch as our country has never been more united and our armed forces have never been more ready to take down the enemy and 12 Strong leans hard into this in its opening act. We get very little to no time with these soldiers at home and this inevitably hurts their characterizations down the road as we never get a sense who they are and why we should care about them other than they are killing the bad guys. 12 Strong does a good job of trying to build tension when our soldiers aren’t on the battlefield but honestly, the movie doesn’t really pick up until Hemsworth and his team meets with Afghan warlord General Dostum (Navid Negahban). It’s this relationship that carries most of the emotional weight as the film, as both men start not trusting one another but grow to depend on each other. Everytime Dostum is on screen he is captivating and sympathetic as you feel his plight and the hardships the Afghan people have faced under Taliban rule.
While 12 Strong is an action-packed war drama, it offers plenty of moments of levity as you will find yourself laughing more than expected. Most of the comedy comes from the supporting cast as they look to break up the tension in the films downtime between battles. Michael Pena is as always the highlight in these moments as his good-natured attitude and reluctant charm are always a great addition to an ensemble. The rest of the supporting cast does their job effectively but the really only other stand out is Michael Shannon’s, Hal Spencer, and this is mostly because of the intensity and experience he brings to every shot he is in. Even the characters in the film reference that he has the eyes of a killer, a thread to continues till the films third act. I won’t spoil it here but Shannon also features in the film’s most dramatic moment as the team makes their final assault.
12 Strong is a fantastic movie when we are trudging through the trenches and dodging bullets with Nelson and Dostum. During these scenes, we get a ton of action and some great character moments from our two leads. The film only really falters in its downtime, the team is split up on more than one occasion each time separating them from the main action and story and forcing the storytellers to bounce back and forth to ensure we don’t forget about the other guys, even though what they are doing is not very interesting and doesn’t progress the story. I understand its based on a true story and these situations are most likely what happened, but it still slows the film way down each time we have to revisit The Alamo (their code name for home base) just to say, “hey, don’t forget about these guys.”
12 Strong is a movie for every red-blooded American looking for a little reminder of why this country kicks ass. Its action packed and tells one of America’s greatest stories. The cast does a fine job portraying these soldiers but due to the constraint of time, we never really get to know who they are other than they want to do their job and go home. Hemsworth shows that he can be more than the God of Thunder even if his accent is touch and go at times. Most will enjoy 12 Strong and walk out with their head held high and may have a restored hope in the American experience but ultimately due to some pacing issues and the lack of character development, 12 Strong loses that little something extra and becomes a “hoorah” action flick.