Director Nicolai Fuglsig's action film, based on Doug Stanton's 2009 book Horse Soldiers, isn't particularly innovative in terms of genre storytelling - gruff, scenery-chewing officers and homefront drama?
The film debuts in theaters Friday. Their mission, during which they operated under the code name Task Force Dagger, was to hook up with a Northern Alliance warlord (Navid Negahban) and battle their way to the Taliban stronghold of Mazar-i-Sharif, calling in airstrikes until the Taliban (and the Al Qaeda forces they harbored) could be wiped off the map. 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, by a ruthless enemy that does not take prisoners.
MANOHLA DARGIS, THE NEW YORK TIMES: "Still, while the movie largely elides overt politics and policies, both domestic and foreign, they are inextricably embedded in every single narrative turn, each word and image".
That's not to say that the fearless Americans aren't fun to be around; they absolutely are thanks to a top-notch cast involving the aforementioned names alongside other star power notables such as Michael Pena (naturally providing some of the comedic relief), Trevante Rhodes (the breakout Moonlight actor allowed to put his radiance on display once again, often seen chewing on a toothpick while looking over and increasingly growing protective of a young firearm wielding Afghan child soldier), and so many more (even funnyman Rob Riggle shows up occasionally to bark some orders displaying some range).
As for the Taliban, the film depicts just enough of their evil to underscore the righteousness of the fight, while the general - who leads his men on horseback - regales Nelson with sober lessons about the region's history to foreshadow the troubles that will follow even a triumphant campaign.
After the screener ended, a buddy and I were sitting at ZinBurger at Southpoint and he asked if I liked 12 Strong. "That impact can not be denied".
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"12 Strong" has little time for such details, because it is first and foremost an action film.
Chris Hemsworth and his attractive wife, Elsa Pataky, have been married for 7 years now. Yet he's the kind of gung-ho volunteer who's got sharpshooting in his blood. After Nelson's Chief Warrant Officer Hal Spencer (Shannon) tears up his retirement papers and strongly vouches for Nelson, Nelson's team is reassembled and deployed to Afghanistan, leaving their anxious families behind.
And that's fine: the real-life Captain Mark Nutsch, played by Hemsworth as "Mitch Nelson", and his heroic men certainly deserve their close-up 16 years later. As soon as he arrives, he's a master of everything: "the weather patterns, how to map bombing coordinates for the B-52s that are going to blow Taliban-infested villages into the afterlife, and - of course - how to ride into battle on a horse while blasting a machine gun like a badass medieval knight". Sometimes, Hollywood can mess these things up, pushing too hard or laying on a heavy amount of melodrama.
The film is virtually Hemsworth's show and he, with his natural charm and charisma reminds you of his character Thor more than that of a strategic soldier. They've got high-tech equipment up the wazoo, as well as B-52 air support.
Chris Hemsworth in "12 Strong".
While most of the actors didn't have any actual military training, Riggle not only served in the Marine Corps but he also plays his former boss in the film.