12 Strong

© 2017 HS FILM, LLC

(L-R) NAVID NEGAHBAN as General Dostum and CHRIS HEMSWORTH as Captain Mitch Nelson in Alcon Entertainment’s, Black Label Media’s and Jerry Bruckheimer Films’ war drama 12 STRONG, a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Don’t feel guilty. It’s perfectly acceptable to dislike 12 Strong and still salute the courageous efforts of our military personnel overseas.

In fact, the true-life bravery and resilience of the first U.S. Army Special Forces unit on the ground in Afghanistan in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks deserves a better big-screen treatment than this intermittently powerful but embellished and clichéd wartime flag-waver.

Specifically, it takes place in late October 2001 and follows the unit’s brash captain, Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth), who jumps on the patriotic bandwagon and rounds up his Green Berets for a covert revenge mission targeting al-Qaeda strongholds in northern Afghanistan.

Operating from a remote base in neighboring Uzbekistan, the men reach the mountains amid growing dread since they’re badly outnumbered, save for the promised help of air troops as required. They connect with the warlord Gen. Dostum (Navid Negahban), who knows the terrain and shares their hatred for the enemy, and realize their best transportation is on horseback.

Their collective efforts attempt to uncover terror networks before the impending winter weather, with the hope of eventually returning the entire unit home to their families.

The film is fashioned primarily as a star vehicle for Hemsworth between Thor outings, and while his charisma and charm are appealing, his character’s nonchalant swagger and persistent optimism in the face of mounting danger feels forced.

The screenplay generally lacks character depth and historical context. The film supplies little background for anyone outside of Nelson — heroes or villains — and bookend sequences on the home front feel more manipulative than genuine. The squandered supporting cast includes Michael Shannon, Michael Pena and Trevante Rhodes.

Danish filmmaker Nicolai Fuglsig, an acclaimed commercial director making his feature debut, brings visual flair to the chaotic battle sequences, which generate tension due in part to a gritty, boots-on-the-ground intimacy.

The remarkable true story is worth spotlighting, especially since — as the film points out at the end — the mission was never widely recognized at the time because it remained classified for several years afterward.

While such intentions might be heartfelt, the execution feels like a missed opportunity. Instead of emphasizing what made the Horse Soldiers stand out, the film is content to portray them as assembly-line action heroes whose camaraderie and cunning help them survive the most harrowing of shootouts and explosions. As a result, 12 Strong is considerably weakened.

 

Rated R, 130 minutes.