Susan Granger’s review of “12 Strong” (Warner Bros.)
This contemporary war picture celebrates the brave soldiers who fought against Al Qaeda -without probing too deeply into the political justification or disillusioning aftermath of their heroic efforts.
Green Beret Operational Detachment Alpha 595 consists of a 12-member U.S. Special Forces squad sent into mountainous northern Afghanistan shortly after 9/11. Their mission is to take the Taliban stronghold of Mazar-i-Sharif within three weeks – before the winter snow hits.
Led by Capt. Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth), Chief Warrant Officer Cal Spencer (Michael Shannon) and Sgt. First Class Sam Diller (Michael Pena), they’re informed that Afghanistan is the “graveyard of empires.”
Accompanied by tribal warriors under Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban) – who later became Afghanistan’s Vice-President – they ride on horseback across 40 miles of Taliban-controlled territory, liberating small villages along the way and calling in B-52 airstrikes when necessary.
The evasive military tactics and calculated maneuvers are made clear – with New Mexico’s terrain subbing for the harsh landscape of Afghanistan.
The only philosophical insight into the on-going struggle occurs when the American contingent, known as Task Force Dagger, is bluntly told: “You will be cowards if you leave and you will be enemies if you stay.”
Based on Doug Stanton’s based-on-real-events book “Horse Soldiers” (2009), it’s generically and somewhat redundantly adapted by Ted Tally & Peter Craig and directed with mucho machismo as a debut feature by Nicolai Fuglsig, a Danish photojournalist who served as a war correspondent in Kosovo.
FYI: Capt. Mitch Nelson is based on real-life Green Beret Mark Nutsch, and Chris Hemsworth’s real-life wife, Elsa Pataky, plays Nelson’s wife.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “12 Strong” is a ferocious 5, filled with fiery action, procedural frustration and inevitable anguish.