Unsung heroes get their due in 12 Strong as another declassified story comes to the screen.
Nicolai Fuglsig makes an impressive feature directorial debut by giving audiences a thrilling drama based on the book Horse Soldiers by author Doug Stanton that revisits the beginning years of the War on Terror with soldiers traveling on horseback. In no easy feat, Ted Tally and Peter Craig adapted the book as a screenplay. Perhaps because of this, it can be argued that 12 Strong also has some tropes of a Western with Afghanistan being such an undeveloped country and the number of shootouts that take place, granted some of this includes our heroes running for cover from rocket launchers.
The story of the first troops to enter the country is now declassified so many of us are hearing their story now for the first time unless one read the book before release. After 9/11, many people across the country chose to enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces. For this Special Forces unit, nobody asked them to go to Afghanistan. They wanted to go to Afghanistan.
Responding in force under an operation codenamed Task Force Dagger, it’s up to Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth), Chief Warrant Officer Hal Spencer (Michael Shannon) and the Special Forces unit known as ODA (Operational Detachment Alphas) 595 to take the fight into Afghanistan as U.S. troops battle Al Qaeda and the Taliban following the tragic attack of September 11, 2001. It’s a mission that was expected to take up to two years but this squad was somehow able to get it done—against all odds—in a matter of a few weeks time.
It’s in northern Afghanistan where the troops must seek out General Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban) in order to keep the Northern Alliance in an effort to keep a region not only stable but to prevent the area from being taken over by the Al Qaeda. At every corner, it seems our heroes are placed with the odds against them but somehow, they manage to find a way to get the mission accomplished and go home.
The casting here is superb—both Hemsworth and Shannon make for a great duo. It would be great to see these two actors team up for future projects together. Shannon is delivering some great work of late, minus a decision here and there to sign onto a project, but 12 Strong is among that amazing work. Meanwhile, Hemsworth gets to act opposite his wife for the first time on screen—portraying what else but husband and wife.
Comedian Rob Riggle is a former Marine and he portrays a man who he once worked under while serving during the war, Lieutenant Colonel Bowers. It’s not often that Riggle gets a role such as this and he’s not an actor who should be limited to taking on comedic roles. Riggle shows that he’s got some drama in him.
The CNN coverage of the attacks hit just as hard as they did when the events first happened. It’s not a great day to relive over and over and perhaps filmmakers could have found a way to say that hey, this film is set just after 9/11 rather than having to force audiences to relive the moment one more time. Meanwhile, the score from Lorne Balfe complements the film and plays to the story’s emotions and journey.
The biggest gripe with 12 Strong is that the running time is simply too long. The film runs just over 2 hours. There’s a lot happening on the ground and that’s understandable but surely, something could have been sacrificed in order to cut the running time.
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Michael Peña, Trevante Rhodes, Geoff Stults, Thad Luckinbill, Austin Stowell, Ben O’Toole, Austin Hébert, Kenneth Miller, Kenny Sheard, Jack Kesy, Navid Negahban, Elsa Pataky, William Fichtner, and Rob Riggle.
Warner Brothers Pictures opens 12 Strong in theaters on Friday, January 19, 2018.