12 Strong (2018)

Directed by Nicolai Fuglsig
Written by Ted Tally and Peter Craig

Supporting the troops is not a partisan issue in the United States, as much as some might try to make it one. Rather, the issue between parties is often the validity of a war, and the reason why the troops in question are sent to harm’s way at all. I don’t plan on getting into a political discussion on my site, and I don’t want to insinuate anything about either party or anybody. The War in Afghanistan was the direct result of the attacks on September 11th, as well as other Bin Laden/Al-Qaeda terrorist attacks which led up to that fateful Tuesday. It was a time when the nation became united behind the need to fight back against these atrocities. And the first men into Afghanistan were 12 Special Forces soldiers, whose story is told in this new film, 12 Strong. What once was classified is now glorified and celebrated in the movies. It may be a movie that plays out conventionally, but it holds interest throughout.

Micth (Chris Hemsworth) is a sharp Army captain on September 11th, fresh into a new office job which will help his career in the military. But when news comes of the attacks, Mitch quickly moves to regain his former team (Michael Shannon, Michael Pena, et al.) and go off to fight for his country, something he has never had to do before in peacetime. After convincing his superior officer (Rob Riggle), his team auditions for the right to be the first ones on the group in Afghanistan. A right they earn. Their mission? Team up with a northern Afghan warlord (Navid Negahban), whose goals align with the US (eliminating the Taliban), but whose motivations are quite different. With just 12 soldiers, and hard mountain passes to traverse, the group is forced on horseback to fight their way through the Taliban stronghold.

I have already described 12 Strong as conventional, and while that is certainly not a compliment, it is also not a negative. Rather, 12 Strong is a very competently made film with a focus less on telling the personal stories of these soldiers, and more on taking the audience on the daring, thrilling mission they undertook for their country. The backstory is slight, as we hardly get to know the men we follow, but we are all familiar with September 11th, which filmmaker Nicolai Fuglsig uses to his advantage in telling his story. As a result, the stakes are entirely on the mission’s success or failure, and not firmly on the shoulders of the soldiers individual survival, which may come as a surprise for some who are looking for a more personal attachment to this story. But for me, the attachment comes from emotions surrounding September 11th, and the need for this mission to be a success for this country.

The action fuels the film. At just over two hours in length, much of the time is spent on the battle field, with scenes of tremendous intensity and violence. In some ways, the manner in which these scenes are shot mimic a video game experience, capitalizing on POV style shots and strategic maneuvering around a well defined space. In reality, they are just well staged battle sequences, with sharp editing which create all the stakes needed to keep the interest of the viewer throughout. It is a well defined mission, and one with great importance, which, when paired with the solid filmmaking and performances, make 12 Strong a surprisingly enjoyable and tense viewing experience.

There are no superlatives that should be used when describing this film, which is likely why it comes out in January as opposed to October (though it probably deserves a little better release date than it ended up with), but not every film needs to rock your socks off to be worthwhile. That is 12 Strong, which makes it all the harder to write about. The film likely gets overly sentimental and self-important at times, perhaps its greatest fault, but what it loses in these weaker moments, it certainly makes up for with high stakes, thrilling moments throughout the fighting which makes this one mission we are certainly rooting for to succeed, even if the men involved are a little under developed. Go America!

★★★ – Liked It

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