By Jack Dignan
It’s come to my attention that war films have developed a very distinct sub-genre in recent times. They’ve developed the ‘Untold Declassified True Stories of American Heroes Post-9/11’ genre, with films like Lone Survivor, 13 Hours and American Sniper coming to mind (amongst others I’m sure I’m forgetting). They are, essentially, exactly what you’d expect, and the latest in this long string of films, 12 Strong, is no exception. This is, scene for scene, exactly what you would predict it to be. And yet it’s not entirely terrible?
Based on the untold true story, we follow the journey of Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) on the day of 9/11. The event, like it did to so many others, shook him to his core, unleashing a fiery determination within him to return to the war he just left. Nelson, at his own request, is sent into Afghanistan almost straight away, set to lead the first Special Forces team into battle after one of modern America’s greatest tragedies. His team, which includes the likes of Michael Shannon, Trevante Rhodes and Michael Peña, is sent in to team up with an Afghan warlord (Navid Negahban) and take down Taliban soldiers.
In the wake of recent war films such as Dunkirk and Hacksaw Ridge, 12 Strong’s misguided failure becomes even more apparent. Its intentions are certainly noble, creating public awareness for a little-known declassified story that played an important role in kick-starting the American war movement post-9/11, but it can’t save the film from its tediousness and familiar storytelling. Not every war film has to have Christopher Nolan-level of originality, but it doesn’t have to be this stale either. Outside of revealing just who the first responders were to 9/11, we get very little new insight into the events that unfolded.
It’s a generic, slow paced story that’s light on characterization and unsatisfactory in its payoff. An attempt is made at building up character development and getting you invested in these soldier’s lives, but for all the given screen time, it adds about as much as the single line of dialogue “I have a wife at home,” because that’s literally all they show us about any of these guys. You’re supposed to be taken on some emotional ride into these character’s personal struggles through the war, but when the credits begin to roll, I couldn’t tell you a single one of their names. For the sake of this review I’m merely getting them off of IMDB.
Still, despite mediocre characterization and a severe underuse of Michael Shannon, the actors behind them do a fantastic job. Hemsworth continues to show dramatic chops, even if it is the same character he’s played in films like The Huntsman and Red Dawn, while the standout, for me at least, is breakout Moonlight star Trevante Rhodes. Rhodes’ performance is charismatic and likeable, and a sub-plot involving himself and a little boy who continues to follow him is probably the most interesting aspect of the film. They’re about the only two characters I had at least somewhat of an interest in, but a great deal of the film had me baffled as to why we were spending so much time with them.
12 Strong is not a fantastic movie, but even then, it’s not remarkably bad either. The runtime may be far too long, but nothing about this film screams with its incompetence. Nicolai Fuglsig makes a solid directorial debut, and some of the more action-heavy sequences are thrilling and intense, but the overall film, despite some decent moments, just fails to wow.
2 1/2 Stars
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