‘12 Strong’ infuses heart into war but doesn’t dive too deep


If you’re doing your job right in the U.S. Special Forces, it likely means no one will ever know. It’s a tough, elite and highly classified position, where acts of incredible heroism never get the ticker tape parade, and that’s kind of the point. These soldiers are supposed to slip into and out of secret missions without making the evening news. “12 Strong” tells just one of those extraordinary stories, fought in the mountains of Afghanistan in the winter of 2001.

The film is based on Doug Stanton’s book “Horse Soldiers,” which describes one of the ways a Special Forces team adapted to the rugged landscape of Afghanistan — on horseback, like the Afghani warriors with whom they embedded — while battling the Taliban in the shadow of 9/11.

Directed by Danish photojournalist Nicolai Fuglsig, with a brisk, efficient script by “Silence of the Lambs” screenwriter Ted Tally and “The Town” screenwriter Peter Craig, “12 Strong” unfolds as a procedural, taking protocol and bureaucracy swiftly in stride. The men simply execute the mission. They don’t ask too many questions, and they train their minds on personal vendettas and the reasons they have to go home.

Chris Hemsworth stars as Mitch Nelson, a highly-trained new captain who’s never seen war. He impresses the higher-ups enough to send his team, Task Force Dagger, to embed with the Afghani General Dostum (Navid Negahban), who’s been fighting the Taliban as part of the Northern Alliance. The task is to call in airstrikes on the Taliban while fighting through an unforgiving territory. Nelson promises he can do it in three weeks with 12 men, which would require an enormous amount of trust, goodwill and generosity on the part of Dostum.

The two make an interesting and eventually inseparable pair. Dostum, who started fighting the Russians at age 16, is the aging lion, who declares the young upstart Nelson doesn’t have “killer’s eyes.” The fundamental difference between the two men? Nelson’s men are fighting for what they have on earth, fearful of death, while Dostum’s people fight for their rewards in heaven, willing to embrace death, because their situation on earth is pretty hellish as is.

Fuglsig brings an eye for systems and detail to the film, but this is a Jerry Bruckheimer production after all, and he never skimps on the bombastic pyrotechnics. The blistering firefights are increasingly brutal to the point of numbness. “12 Strong,” which is sometimes a profound philosophical and existential examination of what it means to fight for something, is also a ferociously action-packed war film. The details of the who, where and what often get lost and muddled in the thundering explosions.

While it focuses on the personal reasons to go to war, it doesn’t truly interrogate the larger ones. We’re given motivation to hate the Taliban with that tired screenwriting trope, a perfunctory scene of violence against women, which is to justify the airstrikes the Americans call in again and again. The only sly political commentary are a few cracks about how short they expect the war to be, and a few warnings about nations that have come before.

It never delves deep enough to examine the larger involvement of the U.S. and those ramifications, but “12 Strong” manages to infuse heart and character into this adrenaline-fueled war film, exploring how and why men fight.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Movies & TV

Original 'Kiss Me, Kate' star Patricia Morison dead at 103
Original 'Kiss Me, Kate' star Patricia Morison dead at 103

Patricia Morison, who played the shrewish lead role in the 1948 Cole Porter Broadway musical “Kiss Me, Kate,” died Sunday, Variety reported. She was 103.  Morison also appeared on stage with Yul Brynner in “The King and I” and starred in films such as “The Song of Bernadette.” She also appeared as Basil...
Emmylou Harris takes the long view of a storied career in first of two Paramount nights
Emmylou Harris takes the long view of a storied career in first of two Paramount nights

Emmylou Harris performed at the Paramount on Saturday, May 19, and will return for a second show on Sunday, May 20. Peter Blackstock/American-Statesman Midway through her concert Saturday at the Paramount Theatre, Emmylou Harris made a reference to bucket lists but acknowledged hers is basically nonexistent. There’s...
This week’s music picks: Blues on the Green, Hot Luck Fest and more
This week’s music picks: Blues on the Green, Hot Luck Fest and more

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5u2EfCHReM&w=492&h=307] Tuesday: David Crosby at Paramount Theatre. Given that he’s in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it might come as a slight surprise that last year’s “Sky Trails” was just Crosby’s sixth solo album. Of course...
Meghan Markle's rescue dog, Guy the beagle, goes from shelter pup to royal pet
Meghan Markle's rescue dog, Guy the beagle, goes from shelter pup to royal pet

A new member of the royal family is making headlines – and no, we're not talking about Meghan Markle. According to the Guardian, a beagle named Guy was in a Kentucky kill shelter until Ontario-based A Dog's Dream Rescue saved him and offered him for adoption at a 2015 event in Canada. That's where he met his new owner, Markle, who went on...
Royal wedding: Kitty Spencer stuns with resemblance to her aunt, Princess Diana
Royal wedding: Kitty Spencer stuns with resemblance to her aunt, Princess Diana

Bride Meghan Markle wasn't the only one turning heads at Saturday's royal wedding. Many fans of the royals said Lady Kitty Spencer, niece of the late Princess Diana and daughter of Earl Charles Spencer, Diana's brother, looked just like her famous aunt. According to the New York Daily News, the 27-year-old model wore a forest green Dolce & Gabbana...
More Stories