Movie Reviews

12 Strong – A Forgettable Modern War Film

You know there’s something wrong with your movie when the great Michael Shannon is left with nothing to do.

Synopsis: In the harrowing days following 9/11, a U.S. Special Forces team, led by their new Captain, Mitch Nelson, is chosen to be the first U.S. troops sent into Afghanistan for an extremely dangerous mission.  There, in the rugged mountains, they must convince Northern Alliance General Dostum to join forces with them to fight their common adversary: the Taliban and their Al Qaeda allies.  In addition to overcoming mutual distrust and a vast cultural divide, the Americans—accustomed to state-of-the-art warfare—must adopt the rudimentary tactics of the Afghan horse soldiers.  But despite their uneasy bond, the new allies face overwhelming odds: outnumbered and outgunned by a ruthless enemy that does not take prisoners. (IMDB)

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, and Michael Peña

Writers: Ted Tally and Peter Craig

Director:  Nicolai Fuglsig

Rating: 14A (Canada)/R (USA)

Running Time: 130mins

Trailer:

For showtimes and more, check out 12 Strong on movietimes.com.

12 Strong’s story arrives red hot (a few weeks actually) off of the September 11 Attacks and details the first Special Units Team sent into Afghanistan, teaming up with a local Afghan warlord, and initiating the fight with Al-Qaeda and the Taliban overseas. Modern war films have always been a mixed bag. What makes World War II and other great historical war movies so moving is the depth and nuance of the filmmaking that is inherently tied to our introspection of the conflict. Many of the modern war films that are churned out today (primarily focusing on the War on Terror) don’t have the subtlety and the sensibility to distinguish themselves. The conflict is fresh, and in some regions, still ongoing. This doesn’t mean that all new modern war films are bad, but a forgettable film like 12 Strong makes me question how many more of these similar movies studios can make.

The title may say 12 Strong, but make no mistake this is a macho Chris Hemsworth (Mitch Nelson) driven action film. Giving each member of the Special Forces Unit equal amount of characterization and screen time is improbable; however, it would have been great to see more of Michael Shannon (Hal Spencer) and Michael Peña’s (Sam Diller) characters. At the beginning of the second act, the story decides to split the squad up, with the Nelson led group traveling around and killing terrorists, while the Spencer led group is left to twiddle their thumbs.

This back and forth between the groups absolutely derailed the pacing, and made it a little baffling as to why Michael Shannon signed on for this project. Another annoyance (a minor one) is that the movie chooses to show the locations via title cards, which is itself fine, except for half the movie the characters are stuck in one location. It tells us this location about seven times. 12 Strong’s target audience is no doubt that of middle-age males who are undoubtedly patriotic. It’s a shame that the film doesn’t trust its audience and relies on constant spoon-feeding to relay information.

All war movies main draw is their action. 12 Strong’s action is repetitive and non-immersive. The action is ample, except we see the same shots over and over again. A bombing sequence? Let’s use the exact same footage. A character is in trouble? Push-in slow motion shot. There was no variety or durability within the action. The stakes should be huge and the viewer should be invested during these scenes which didn’t happen here. None of the characters ever took a minute to realize the carnage and chaos surrounding them and just instantly moved on.

Granted, 12 Strong never seeps towards jingoistic messages, but the patriotism is very apparent. As soon as Al-Qaeda bombs the Twin Towers, Nelson immediately ditches his family to get his squad to fight overseas (his superior played by Rob Riggle and Hemsworth flips a desk in flippant anger over the notion of not fighting) even though he has no real combat experience. It doesn’t matter. The Special Unit Force is dropped into Afghanistan with an objective of allying with the warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban), and eliminating all Taliban. The most intriguing part of the movie was this sort-of high school relationship between Dostum and Nelson. An on-and-off relationship that culminates in a bad break up, except they get back together and fall more deeply in love a few days later. Nelson is someone who  revels in something that some would call energetic masculinity. His character is plastered with it. The first ten minutes of the movie will show you what I mean.

Overall, 12 Strong is a forgettable run-of-the-mill modern war film that wastes its talented cast by trading in depth and nuance for repetitive action and surface-level patriotism. For a January film, it’s decent, but that’s not saying much.

Score: 4.5/10

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