UK Release Date: 26th January 2018
Runtime: 130 minutes
Director: Nicolai Fuglsig
Writer: Ted Tally, Peter Craig
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Navid Negahban, Michael Peña, Trevante Rhodes, William Fichtner, Elsa Pataky, Rob Riggle
Synopsis: In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, a team of highly-trained soldiers is sent to Afghanistan to win a major stronghold from the Taliban forces.
It feels like we’ve had an abnormally huge number of war movies in the last year or so. 12 Strong sticks out in the fact it’s rooted in far more recent conflict, set against the backdrop of the early days of America’s invasion of Afghanistan following the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001. The film draws from the now declassified story of the ‘Horse Soldiers’, who were among the first US forces on the ground in the country and achieved remarkable things in a very short space of time. Unfortunately, the resulting film achieves almost nothing and feels like it runs forever.
Chris Hemsworth is Captain Mitch Nelson, leader of Task Force Dagger. Along with 11 colleagues, including seasoned veteran Spencer (Michael Shannon) and intelligence sergeant Diller (Michael Peña), Mitch is dispatched to join forces with Afghani warlord Dostum (Navid Negahban) in order to oust the Taliban forces from a key area with the help of air strikes from above. Issues surrounding trust between the factions, as well as the difficult conditions, make the job treacherous.
Never has a war movie been steeped in the clichés of its genre as much as 12 Strong. It’s a film that’s all about bland macho caricatures dressed in military uniforms and spouting platitudes, from the obvious “you will always be my brother” to the achingly trite “there are no right choices here”. Forget it Jake, it’s Afghanistan. Then there’s Hemsworth’s office, which shows the audience he’s a devoted military type because his wall is decorated only with miscellaneous shots of helicopters and tanks, like a 12-year-old obsessed with Call of Duty and BB guns.
There’s no doubt that the story of the Horse Soldiers is hugely significant in terms of the response to the Taliban after 9/11 rocked the world, but it simply does not make for a compelling movie. Much of the actual conflict is people crouching behind rocks while ordering air strikes and the dialogue is stripped right down to people yelling “what’s your position?” and “cover me” over and over again. There’s simply nothing to get excited about and, soon, the rat-a-tat chatter of machine gun fire becomes too commonplace for it to have any impact at all.
The characterisation of these men and the people around them is pitiful, with Hemsworth and Shannon relegated to bland military archetypes rather than the more complex and enjoyable roles they are accustomed to playing. It’s even worse when it comes to the female characters, who are demoted either to crying, cleaning or both in the opening “montage of wives” as each man prepares to leave their family behind or a bizarre mid-movie scene in which they are all gathered around a television, as if they have nothing better to do other than watch the news and wait.
12 Strong, amid considerable competition, might be the most tedious war film in recent memory, which is particularly egregious given its assembly of deeply impressive performers. There’s no point casting character actors unless they’re given a character. By the time director Nicolai Fuglsig unironically points his camera at a lone horse running dramatically through the corpse-strewn aftermath of a firefight, I completely checked out and fixed the screen with a thousand-yard stare of my own.
Pop or Poop?
The ‘Horse Soldiers’ may well be a crucial part of the War in Afghanistan and there’s no doubt that the real men behind this story can be considered heroes. There are no such heroes, though, in 12 Strong, which gives this extraordinary story a decidedly ordinary style of storytelling which becomes mired in fetishism and cliché.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.