Director: Nicolai Fuglsig
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Michael Peña, Navid Negahban, Trevante Rhodes, Austin Stowell, William Fichtner, Rob Riggle
Chris Hemsworth has proven with a variety of comedic roles that he can successfully transition out of his work as Thor into other genres and stories. The catch is that he needs a good enough script to give him something to work with to differentiate himself from the beefcake image we associate with Thor. 12 Strong doesn’t live up to the challenge. It’s based on a true story following the tragic events of 9/11. Hemsworth plays Captain Mitch Nelson who has just moved to Kentucky with his family. He’s barely settled into his new place before he’s called for service in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center. He’s a hot head type of guy who has to fight his way back into work and be taken seriously in a leadership position. Other soldiers played by Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water), Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight), and Michael Peña (Ant-Man) are off at a training session when they learn of the tragic events. All four of them are part of a team of twelve, led by Nelson, who make the decision to leave their present day lives behind for the call of duty despite the mixed opinions from their wives and families.
Nelson promises that his team, known as “Task Force Dagger”, can take on this raid of the Taliban within a seemingly impossible three week time period despite the risk and danger presented. Once they land on their Uzbekistan base, they form a partnership with a local alliance in General Abdul Rashid Dostum (Negahban), an Afghan warlord who also has his own vendetta against the Taliban. Nelson and Dostum and their teams travel via horseback through the mountainous area to Taliban territory oftentimes struggling with their communication barriers and their very different approaches to combat.
12 Strong has the subtitle of “The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers”, which makes me wonder why this mission was classified to begin with and what happened along the way. Did people die along the way? Was it an aborted mission? What other tragedy struck this band of twelve soldiers? We’ve seen quite a few post-9/11 war movies now to the point where I’m looking to find what makes each one different. Why tell this story now? I put myself in this uneasy funk expecting something to happen to answer these questions that formed. The problem comes with the notion that the movie itself should be keeping me engaged and answering these questions for me. It was a tell-tale sign from the beginning exposition that the overall execution was going to be a bit generic. It races too fast to get the soldiers into combat where then it sits for a majority of its runtime of 130 minutes. It becomes repetitious in the middle waiting and watching the various battles at hand between our soldiers and members of the Taliban.
The filmmakers forgot that the audience needs the before and after as well, which is just as important as the combat scenes. We get introduced to the wives and girlfriends, but no introductory scene lasts long enough to invest in these characters as family men before 9/11. The script by Oscar winner Ted Tally (The Silence of the Lambs) and Peter Craig (The Town) rarely develops any specificity in building these characters setting them apart from each other. I never felt that bond with any of them to feel the tension and danger present of what they are risking. Michael Shannon and Trevante Rhodes are the only two that manage to bring a bit of originality to their characters. Shannon adds that little wink to his character as if to say “Hey, I’m trying!” as a nod to us that have been following his career. The other members of the team have familiar faces but I never felt that bond as a brotherhood working together for a better cause. I go back to my initial intrigue of why this was classified to begin with. What came next after the end credits start rolling?
Director Nicolai Fuglsig is relatively new which may explain a lack of build in this story. I know that I’m supposed to like this movie due to the courageous efforts put forth by Captain Nelson and the horse soldiers. I can’t help but feel the film’s generic qualities come through all too often beginning with the film’s title. I feel like there is more to this story as is probably written by journalist Doug Stanton in his book “Horse Soldiers” which serves as the basis for the film. Chris Hemsworth is believable in this type of role but doesn’t bring anything extra to make Captain Nelson stand out. I’m not sure if the film’s ultimate goal is to bring this story to the forefront for the first time or to share something deeper. The underlying message asks us how we can come together for the common good when you don’t speak the same language, both literally and figuratively. That is found at the crux of the partnership of Nelson and Dostum but is never quite explored with any sort of resolution or understanding. The story of the horse soldiers deserves to be told, but 12 Strong doesn’t quite know how to make it impactful given its importance in our fight against the Taliban.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? You can pass on this generic combat movie
RATING: 2 out of 5 TICKET STUBS