3.5 out of 5 Stars
Director: Nicolai Fuglsig
Writer: Ted Tally (screenplay), Peter Craig (screenplay), Doug Stanton (book)
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, William Fichtner
Genre: Action, War
Rated: R for war violence and language throughout
Synopsis: The story of the first Army Special Forces unit who were sent into Afghanistan following the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
Review: Everything I know about war I’ve learned from visiting museums, reading books, talking to veterans and watching movies. In recent years, we’ve seen a shift from war films that simply beat their chest and have their participants walking into the sunset to the roar of a crowd to movies that explore the emotional trauma that even the victors feel when the battle is won. War is hell, no one gets out unscathed.
“12 Strong” tells the story of a group of men who, in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center towers, head into Afghanistan in hopes of making a difference. Certainly, some are more noble than others, but none are depicted in a way that suggests that they were simply blood-thirsty combatants looking to notch a few headshots into their military resume.
The film also sidesteps most of the politics that have come to be a part of the 9/11 narrative. These are people living in the moment, acting on their conscience. In a sense, they are men who are driven to do their jobs, but really, they are so much more than that. I can’t tell you what drives a person to be willing to set aside the comforts of home to fight in a distant land of constant chaos.
I liked “12 Strong” and the history lesson it taught me, particularly when it comes to the strange internal politics that govern the Afghasnistan factions. I enjoyed the performances. Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon get the memorable roles, but Michael Peña, in my estimation, does the best work here. He’s funny, but wounded by the choices he made as a younger man. He carries a sense of disappointment in himself that gives the character a soul that many of the supporting characters don’t have. The cinematography, while fairly bleak, is effective. I’m impressed by Nicolai Fuglsig’s direction, particularly because this is only his second feature.
Still, "12 Strong" feels like it exists on a island. For the soldiers involved, it probably was, but I would have liked a little more context to understand what the mission accomplished.
“12 Strong” isn’t a war masterpiece, but it is a strong film on par with “The Lone Survivor” and certainly far better than “13 Hours” and “Act of Valor.”