Released: 26th January 2018
Directed By: Nicolai Fuglsig
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon
Reviewed By: Van Connor
It’s long since become par for the course now that the start of each year sees the release of at least some minor variation on the flag-waving true-story pro-American war flick, for which 12 Strong comes galloping along to proudly proclaim the mantle for 2018. Each of these movies, traditionally, comes with some kind of hook – Lone Survivor had the sense of inevitability provided by it’s spectacularly stupid title, 13 Hours was to unfold over exactly that, and 12 Strong has the rather novel gimmick of its military leads being forced to execute their missions on horseback. A gimmick it strangely does very little with.
Declassified only a few years ago, the story concerns the collatorative mission between different elements of the US armed services and anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan as the embark on the first organised operation in the wake of 9/11. Chris Hemsworth is the (field) inexperienced commander tasked with leading his men alongside an embittered Afghan general (a refreshingly against type Navid Negahban) as they set out to liberate town after town from Taliban head Razzan on the way to his centralised base of operations. Faced with terrain they’ve never had to brave before, and an enemy unlike any they’ve ever faced, the team – designated Task Force Dagger – are left with no choice but to take to horseback and make it their mission to strike back on behalf of a wounded America.
Neither dull nor particularly impressive, 12 Strong makes for a structurally rather solid directorial debut for photojournalist Nikolai Fuglsig, who – under the watchful eye of producer Jerry Bruckheimer (a man who could by now drop three of these with his morning constitutional without breaking a sweat) – knows just the right balance to shoot for between glorified hero shots and National Geographic visuals. That balance wholeheartedly works, and, with a game cast bringing an admittedly bare-bones screenplay to life, the results err toward the more positive side of serviceable than anything else.
Hemsworth remains something of an uncertain commodity outside of his Marvel and comedic efforts though, with 12 Strong offering him nothing more than a project of the shaky nature Heath Ledger was lumbered with in the half-decade leading up to Brokeback Mountain, but he’s got the physical chops and just enough grizzled charm to make it work. That he’s backed up by an admirably stocked cast that includes Michael Shannon, Trevante Rhodes, and Michael Peña aids him to no end; though it remains the case that a not-entirely-worthy lead can’t quite rest on the laurels of his co-stars, and Hemsworth walks away from 12 Strong in really no better or worse shape as a leading man than he was going in to it.
The sort of January war flick that’ll keep you distracted enough whilst it’s on (though it is a little baggy at times), but be forgotten shortly after it’s through; 12 Strong is a very middle-of-the-road effort for the pantheon of twenty-first century war movies. It’s a captivating story that’s perhaps not as well told as it should be, with a script that’s given a better calibre of performance than it seems to deserve, and yet it’s a rousing enough time all the same. Like the kind of bestselling war novel that sells well in airports, 12 Strong fits as well into a more disposable region of the meaningful, only every second bullet it fires having real meaning, and, as such, ensuring that any targets it really hits (and, boy, you could seriously question the ingrained politics behind this one) it does with only half the precision it really should.
Mystifyingly, it also does very little with the whole horse angle, and, really, wasn’t that kind of it’s only real selling point to begin with?