Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Michael Pena, Navid Negahban
Director: Nicolai Fuglsig
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: Chris Hemsworth (“Thor,” “The Avengers” films) and Oscar nominee Michael Shannon (“Revolutionary Road,” “Nocturnal Animals”) star in “12 Strong,” a powerful new war drama from Alcon Entertainment, Black Label Media and Jerry Bruckheimer Films. Based on the book best-selling book Horse Soldiers, it is story of heroism based on true events that unfolded a world away in the aftermath of 9/11.
I will be completely honest, going into 12 Strong, I did not have high expectations. A January war movie produced by Jerry Bruckheimer suggests that this movie should have been nothing but two hours of shoot-em-up nonsense. While this movie is lacking in its story, I was pleasantly surprised by how well done the action scenes and the character development were and it made my viewing experience better than anticipated.
I have said it before and I will say it always, the most important of any action movie is the action. The combat scenes in 12 Strong are incredibly well done and realistic. It feels like you are actually in these battles as they are happening. A pleasant surprise was the emotional attachment I felt for Hemsworth, Shannon, and Pena’s characters throughout the film. None of them have a particular original background, but seeing that all of them have something more to fight makes their conflicts feel that much more important. I am not sure if it was the writing, directing, or acting that created these moments, but whoever was responsible for it deserves high praise. While their character development was great, the character development of the other soldiers in this unit was lacking. I believe this was due to the amount of times this unit was split up and sent on small team missions, preventing us from taking the time to get know the supporting cast and why we should care about them. While the side missions may have been historically accurate, it did not create an environment that made me connect with the characters. Regarding the marketing for this movie, I felt as though the story portrayed to us in commercials is far different than the story that actually happened. The story was portrayed as 12 US soldiers on horses take on the Taliban’s huge numbers, Soviet-era weapons, and tanks. What they do not tell you is that it was really 12 US soldiers, the Northern Alliance, and the US Air Force against the Taliban. While the victory is still incredible, I do not like being mislead in the advertising, as to my knowledge, none of those outside factors were shown in promos.
Speaking of historical accuracy, I believe that this film vastly simplified the American involvement in Afghanistan. I have a very basic background of modern Afghan history, and I know that the events of the events of this movie were followed by 16 years of struggle and turmoil in Afghanistan. One of the things I think the film was lacking regarding the US involvement in Afghanistan is that had this film taken place 20 years earlier, the US soldiers would be fighting against General Dostum (Negahban), with the Mujahideen, which later became the Taliban. Dostum never brought this up once and insulted the way the Soviets came into Afghanistan, even though he fought with them against the Mujahideen. Regarding Dostum’s story, the film ends with a note that he ended up as Afghanistan’s Vice President, but it fails to mention that he was exiled from the country last year for assaulting a political rival. While the Taliban might be a group of deplorable people, Dostum is not exactly innocent of treachery. I also did not care for the way that US military involvement in Afghanistan was portrayed. They showed that these soldiers were not just in Afghanistan to protect the US, but to liberate these people from their oppressors. I want to make one thing perfectly clear, US military and foreign policy decisions are almost never made for the benefits of non-American citizens. Had the 9/11 terrorist attacks never happened, there is no chance we would have intervened in Afghanistan to liberate these people. To portray these decisions as anything other than an attempt to help the US is completely dishonest and needs to be reviewed more closely moving forward.
Overall, despite its structural flaws, I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed 12 Strong. I did go into this film with the most open mind, and maybe that is why I left feeling better than when I went in. Regardless of the, “happily ever after,” ending, the character development and beautiful landscape shots help make this a slightly above average war movie.
Overall Score: 6/10