Director: Nicolai Fuglsig
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Michael Peña, Navid Negahban, Trevante Rhodes, Geoff Stults, William Fichtner
AKA Horse Soldiers.
After 9/11, America’s response was swift, maybe not necessarily decisive, but swift. 12 Strong details the first team sent to Afghanistan as the War on Terror began and their uneasy alliance with native Northern Alliance fighters and their leader Abdul Rashid Dosham. Directed by first-time director (and photojournalist) Nicolai Fuglsig and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, the movie had a certain pedigree to it – real-life behind-the-lines experience and the power of Bruckheimer. Throw in the manliest of casts and the stage was set for a seriously good war movie. Hopefully.
Despite a runtime of two hours and ten minutes, 12 Strong struggles to fully pack it with meaningful scenes. At least fifteen minutes could have been trimmed from the final product, and there would be no noticeable shift in the narrative. While a tighter movie could have been more effective, the lack of depth afforded to our protagonists would still be glaring. As soldiers and a team, I buy each of them. However, if we are being asked to root for these guys, then just a bit of camaraderie doesn’t fill the development quota. Michael Shannon is a perfect fit for this kind of movie and role. His grizzled, low-brow approach suits the subject and tone. Hemsworth again shows he’s able outside of Thor and the MCU. It’s always great to see William Fichtner pop up, even with a terrifying bald look.
12 Strong probably would have been more effective if it had spent more time studying Chris Hemsworth/Mitch Nelson as a character. The internal conflict of a man resigned to a desk job before 9/11 thrust back into leading his squad, despite having never seen battle before, could have been a fascinating study. Especially as he is now the first man to lead troops in the War on Terror behind enemy lines. However, the movie ends up being an uber-patriotic tub-thumping exercise. We were just a simple “USA! USA!” from checking off all the boxes. The dialogue is written to be inspirational and epic, but it just comes off as a collection of quotable taglines.
The action is captured well, that’s for sure, and whilst the horses were used in the real-life attacks, they don’t really add an awful lot to the scenes. Despite this being based on a book called Horse Soldiers (which actually sounds like mutant horses), it was still a decent twist on the well-trodden staple of the genre.
As a war movie, 12 Strong is pretty good but not exceptional. The real-life story should rightly be lauded as a heroic effort given the odds stacked against the US troops. However, the cinematic story becomes too entrenched in reminding anyone who watched of the USA’s love for all things USA (even with an Aussie lead actor). With a plodding, dragged-out story and runtime, 12 Strong isn’t quite as strong as it should be.
January 7th 2018