Movie Review: 12 Strong
The war film, 12 Strong: The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers, debuted over the weekend. Directed by newcomer Nicolai Fuglsig and written by Ted Tally and Peter Craig, the film is based on the novel Horse Soldiers by Doug Stanton. The story follows the first team of soldiers to fight in Afghanistan against the Taliban following the 9/11 attacks. Chris Hemsworth stars as Captain Mitch Nelson, who is the leader of the team, alongside Michael Shannon’s Chief Warrant Officer Cal Spencer. The rest of the cast is also comprised of Michael Peña, Navid Negahban, Trevante Rhodes, Geoff Stults, Thad Luckinbill, William Fichtner, and Rob Riggle.
The film begins with the various members of this team witnessing and/or finding out about the terrorist attacks that took place on September 11, 2001. Captain Mitch Nelson (Hemsworth) immediately asks for he and his team to be sent to Afghanistan in response, which is met with resistance from his commanding officer over his lack of actual experience in the field and his new office position. However, after Chief Warrant Officer Cal Spencer (Shannon) intervenes, Nelson and his team are allowed to go overseas. Once they arrive, they are one in six teams vying for the opportunity to lead the first assault, which they eventually obtain. However, as they learn about the dynamics in northern Afghanistan and the different leaders vying for control, their mission becomes more complicated and dangerous.
First of all, the true story that inspired this film is pretty incredible in itself. It is a little insane to think that in 2001 twelve men ended up going into battle on the backs of horses. The seeming absurdity of that in the 21st century is maintained in the film, and the various comments from the soldiers themselves hits home on that fact. That said, I thought the action sequences were well executed, and the film maintained the tension that naturally comes with war films. The marketing for the film billed it as the first victory following the attacks on 9/11, but for those of us who had not read the book, it left the audience wondering just who would come home after this mission.
Another aspect of the film that I found to be excellent is the way the filmmakers captured the complicated dynamics within Afghanistan. The soldiers are sent to negotiate with General Abdul Rashid Dostum of the Northern Alliance and gain him as an ally; however, he is not the only leader within the Alliance. There are several other people in charge of their own militias, and none of them are allies with one another. It conveys well the difficult dynamics there, and it also touches briefly on some of the past events in that region. Some of my favorite sequences of the film were conversations between Dostum, who is played by Navid Negahban, and Captain Nelson. Through those conversations the audience gets a glimpse into the perspective of the people who actually live there and their seemingly never-ending struggle against the Taliban and other enemy forces.
So, while I thought the story itself was compelling and fascinating, the movie does suffer from some slow sequences. Also, while the actors themselves gave some great performances, the film primarily suffers from a lack of character development. The courage of these guys is undeniable, but it would have been nice to have spent more time developing them individually before transporting them to their mission in Afghanistan. There are a few hard hitting moments where the toll of war catches up to them, but they seem to be lost in the overall narrative. If you tend to enjoy war films, though, I would say 12 Strong is a film that you will enjoy viewing on the big screen.
Mollie is a film enthusiast, aspiring writer/screenwriter, and a lover of all things Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Doctor Who. She is the co-founder of The Digital Shore (@thedigitalshore) and Above The Line (@atl_movies). You can follow her many adventures through Twitter and Instagram at @mcbeach.