There are two kinds of war films. The kind that is realistic, brutal and scares the living shit out of you like Hacksaw Ridge and The Hurt Locker, and the kind that is just a whole lot of fun, like The Rock. I tend to enjoy the former more. 12 Strong, which just like The Rock, is a Jerry Bruckheimer production, strives to be the latter. But that is more of an observation than a criticism.
We all know the tragic tale of 9/11 that shook the United States and the rest of the world. It’s still surreal to think that my uncle was in the World Trade Centre only a couple days prior. We also know the story of how the US government, led by former President Barack Obama, took down the terrorist assface that is Osama bin Laden. But what we don’t know, until recently, is that immediately after the events of 9/11, 12 brave (more like batshit crazy) US soldiers rode on HORSES and managed the first victory on the war on terror — a war that we are still fighting to this day.
It is an interesting story. I just wished it would’ve been put to film by a more competent storyteller. Directed by Nicolai Fuglsig, 12 Strong lacks a sense of realism and tension that this story desperately required. These are 12 soldiers, not in tanks, but on SIX HORSES, riding in a country which at the time was run by an Islamic extremist terrorist organization, Al Qaeda, whose idea of an early Christmas present is the heads of US soldiers on pikes.
This movie should have been a stressful experience. With every gallop, you should be fearing for the lives of these soldiers. Mix that with the fact that the soldiers’ only ally is an Afghan general, Dostam, and his men, who hate the Taliban and Al Qaeda slightly more than they hate the United States — what if Dostam and his men decide to betray them? By the end of the movie, my nails should have been devoured. But instead, I just sat back, munching away on my M&Ms. 12 Strong isn’t a boring film; it just isn’t engrossing either.
At times, this movie tries to be a character piece. This it is a character piece without any characterizations. Who are these characters? You don’t get to know them on a personal level, which would have been fine if this movie is more in the vein of Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk”, which is more about an event, than people at the event. But 12 Strong focuses on themes like ‘trust’ and ‘betrayal’; themes that only work if we know these characters on a personal level. But we don’t know anything about these characters beyond your typical Hollywood war movie cliches.
Chris Hemsworth is the good-looking team leader, who requests a demotion in order to serve his country on the field of battle. When his superior initially denies him the opportunity, he storms into his office and kicks his table down. Michael Pena has beef with Chris Hemsworth for reasons that scream let’s create drama for the sake of it. Michael Shannon is… well, he’s too good to be in this movie. They have wives and before going to war, all the wives say wife-y things. “I will love you when you get home,” says Michael Shannon’s character’s wife. The rest of the soldiers just drop one-liners in the background. General Dostam is the most interesting character here, but that’s only because we’re told that he might betray the US, not because we feel it. Everyone does what they can performance wise, it’s the writing that is weak.
What keeps you reasonably entertained throughout is the action sequences, that do a solid job in highlighting the bloodiness of war, though, you would be foolish to expect something Mel Gibson-esque. The action sequences are aesthetically pleasing, but again, lacks a sense of danger. Not once do you actually worry about our fearsome soldiers. I rewatched Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” recently. There, Bigelow forces you to take a deep breath at the start of the film and you only let it out when the end credits roll. It is that nerve-wrecking. Every single second is riveting. 12 Strong isn’t that, but it is a decent enough way to kill time.
I rewatched Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker recently. There, Bigelow forces you to take a deep breath at the start of the film and you only let it out when the end credits roll. It is that nerve-wracking. Every single second is riveting. 12 Strong isn't that, but it is a decent enough way to kill time.