A fascinating look at the dedicated soldiers who were part of a secret mission right after 9/11, “12 Strong” is a tribute to those who would sacrifice themselves for the greater good.
And I’m not talking just about the U.S. Special Forces who fought in the mountains of Afghanistan in 2001.
Based on the Doug Stanton book “Horse Soldiers,” the movie is about a dozen members of a Special Forces team who traversed the rugged environment of Afghanistan on horseback while they fought the Taliban.
I had never heard of Nicolai Fuglsig, a talented director with only a handful of credits. But I hope to see more of his films. He’s especially effective, no doubt, because of the script by Ted Tally (“The Silence of the Lambs”) and Peter Craig, who along with others wrote “The Town.”
Chris Hemsworth puts down his hammer and his Thor persona to play Mitch Nelson, a highly-trained captain who has had desk duty and never has experienced combat. He has a struggle to get to the front lines. “You break this team up, you're cutting the head off our most venomous snake," says Chief Warrant Officer Hal Spencer (the always intense and entertaining Michael Shannon.)
And so Nelson and his team, Task Force Dagger, are dispatched to embed with Afghani General Dostum (Navid Negahban), part of the Northern Alliance soldiers who are fighting the Taliban.
Nelson is supposed to call in airstrikes on the Taliban while fighting a hostile environment. He and Dostum form an uneasy kind of friendship that is one of the most remarkable and compelling parts of the film.
Eventually, Nelson and his crew take horses (on loan from their Afghani allies) as their vehicles into the rugged land.
This is going to sound a bit crass at first, I suppose, but I am not commending Fuglsig for creating exploitive visuals: The explosions here are incredibly realistic. We see vehicles, structures and, sadly, people in the midst of these bursts, and that lends an authenticity to this war movie that makes it all the more watchable.
This is a tribute to those who are willing to sacrifice their own lives for the greater good. It’s not only thoughtful, but it’s also a well-wrought actioner.
The whole ensemble, including Hemsworth and Shannon, is entertaining. The always-solid Michael Pena (“End of Watch”) is a welcome addition, too. The most interesting character is Negahban’s Nostum.
This is a movie that won’t disappoint audiences who appreciate a well-written treatment of a true story.