Based on the true story of the first US troops on the ground in Afghanistan after September 11, 12 Strong is a high energy war film. The premise is ‘against all odds’, but that was the reality too. This is director Nicolai Fuglsig’s first feature film, and it is a very professional entry to the field.
Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) is a US Army Captain at home with his wife and young daughter when the planes strike the twins towers. Although he is due to stay on home soil, desk-bound for a while, he volunteers himself and his old unit for immediate deployment. Arriving in Uzbekistan, Mitch makes a case for his unit to be the ones to secure the mission. The mission is to be dropped into enemy territory under cover of night, trekking across the mountains for weeks, then fighting the 50,000 strong Taliban alongside the Northern Alliance leader General Abdul Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban) and his 500-odd men. Mitch’s crew are chosen for the mission, and are quickly in the mountains – in a region which has been defeating armies for centuries. Mitch and his men meet up with Dostrum to discover they will be facing the Taliban on horseback, with limited US air support.
Although he seems far too young for the role of Mitch Nelson, Chris Hemsworth carries it off. Mitch develops a great rapport with Dostrum; the combination of Hemsworth and Negahban works really well. Hemsworth is well supported by a solid team, Michael Shannon is great as his second Hal Spencer, and Michael Peña and Trevante Rhodes, amongst others, balance out the unit.
12 Strong reads like a good old fashioned Hollywood propaganda film (in particular, John Wayne’s The Green Berets), and that’s because it basically is. This is exactly what the Team America film was parodying; “America, F#*@ Yeah! Gonna save the mother-f#*@ing day, yeah!” The jingoism is palpable – but that’s OK. It’s actually not offensive, which is surprising (at least to this reviewer), and the treatment of the Afghan and Uzbekistani locals is not too bad either (again, surprising). That in itself seems like a great leap forward, but unfortunately there is little more to it.
The film is very simplistic in its understanding of global politics and of history; America is good, the others are (mostly) bad. We are a long way on from September 11 – nearly seventeen years, in fact – and a little hindsight is not a bad thing. The story of these twelve men on horseback is a great one, and certainly worthy of big screen notoriety. And this is a great, engrossing, action-packed war movie – it delivers what it promises, and superficial is OK. But, moving forward, a little more complexity should be possible.
12 Strong is in cinemas from 8th March through Roadshow Films.