Directed by: Nicolai Fuglsig
Screenwriters: Ted Tally, Peter Craig
Produced by: Jerry Bruckheimer, Molly Smith, Trent Luckinbill, Thad Luckinbill.
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Michael Peña, Navid Negahban, Trevante Rhodes, Geoff Stults, Thad Luckinbill, Rob Riggle, William Fichtner, Elsa Pataky.
12 Strong is a hero movie based on the true story of twelve soldiers, Green Berets known as ODA (Operational Detachment Alphas), volunteering to fight in Afghanistan after the twin towers attack on 9/11 (2001): the first soldiers to set foot on Afghani soil after the attack, a fact unknown at the time being an Army Special Forces team on a covert mission.
There’s some good action here, based on the 2009 bestseller written by Doug Stanton, Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan.
Unlike the majority of the patriotic, sickening over-dramatisation of Americans’ fighting in wars, 12 Strong focusses on the action in Afghanistan and the clash of cultures as Mark Nutsch, ODA-595 Special Forces Captain (re-named in the film as Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth)) leads a mission, Codenamed Task Force Dagger, to fight alongside the Northern Alliance: separate Afghani groups led by warlords who hate each other almost as much as they hate the Taliban.
For any hope of gaining ground against the Taliban and Al Qaeda and to stop more attacks on American soil, team leader Captain Mitch Nelson must convince General Abdul Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban), a fierce warrior and warlord, to join forces; the only motivation to fight together being a common enemy.
Willing to assist the Americans from the ground, the Americans support from the sky with bombs dropped on targets from coordinates given by Captain Nelson.
Set in the extremes of the Afghanistan landscape, with dust and snow and steep rocky mountains, movement is restricted to horseback.
There’s something poetic about horses in battle; whether it reminds of wars in the past or the majesty of the animal, I could only wonder at the skill required to ride while under enemy fire from missile launchers and T-72 tanks and to shoot a machine gun with bullets whizzing by the horses ear; to control an animal usually frightened by loud noise and to stay the course without bolting.
But unbelievably, as General Abdul Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban) states, Afghani’ horses won’t scare: they know the bombs are American.
12 Strong is a fascinating story shot beautifully with Nicolai Fuglsig making his feature film debut as director, his past as a photojournalist showing his experience in capturing war on film. Up close and showing the ‘killer eyes’ of his cast, the action is taken higher with views from horse back galloping through explosions and fire.
It’s a film full of heroism with careful casting – Chris Hemsworth showing the humility and bravery of Captain Nelson. And yes, there’s always a bit of drama in these war-hero films, with Captain Nelson stating he refuses to write a death letter to his wife, left at home, ‘I made her a promise I was coming home. I’m not writing a letter to say I broke it.’
And I thought, Oh no, another cheesy, self-congratulatory, family-plucking-the-heart-strings, indulgence – however when the men got to Afghanistan, the film ramped up into an action-packed, suspenseful, yet thoughtful story. And Michael Peña as the Green Beret, Sam Diller, added some needed humour, keeping it real for those who don’t like too much drama.
The real interest of the film was the insight of this previously unknown story, by entering the Belly of the Beast to see the complicated history and terrible crimes already inflicted on the innocent of Afghanistan making 12 Strong not only an action film, but also an engaging story.