12 Strong

GoMovieReviews Rating:

Rated: MA15+12 Strong

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.

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GoMovieReviews Rating:

Rated: MA15+CHIPS

Director: Dax Shepard

Producers: Ravi D. Mehta, Dax Shepard, Andrew Panay, Rick Rosner

Written by: Dax Shepard

Based on: CHiPs TV series created by Rick Rosner

Starring: Dax Shepard, Michael Peña, Rosa Salazar, Adam Brody, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jessica McNamee, Kristen Bell, with Jane Kaczmarek, Maya Rudolph, Ed Begley Jr, and Josh Duhamel

The original television series of CHiPs (1977-1983), was an action ‘dramedy’ dealing with the daily crime fighting of the California Highway Patrol officers on their motor cycles. Two of its main characters were played by Erik Estrada (macho, trouble-pronue probationary Officer Frank “Ponch” Poncherello), and Larry Wilcox (strait-laced field training Officer Jonathan “Jon” Andrew Baker).

My memories of this TV show are vague as I only ever saw a few episodes, so I had little idea of how this updated cinema version would compare to its predecessor.

I will happily admit that I found the film to be a guilty pleasure. It was rude, profanity-laden, sexist and with an over-reliance on visual gags and nudity, and it will never win any awards for subtlety. But it was also quite funny and engaging, and in some strange way had its heart in the right place, especially with the depiction of the relationship between its lead characters.

In a reversal of the original TV premise, Officer Jon Baker (Dax Shepard) is now the probationer. A beaten-up former pro motor biker, he is trying to put his life and marriage (to Kristen Bell’s character) back together. Baker is touchingly loyal to his ex-wife and desperately keen to make something of himself. His honesty and odd personality quirks, as well as a running gag based on his unusual reaction to household smells, makes him very appealing. He reminded me of Zach Braff’s character in the TV comedy Scrubs, with both actors sharing a goofy, endearingly naïve charm.

Castillo (Michael Peña) is now a cocky undercover Federal agent masquerading as Officer Francis “Frank” Llewellyn “Ponch” Poncherello, assigned to investigate a multi-million dollar heist that may be an inside job, inside the California Highway Patrol. Ponch is a bit sleazy yet still has some of the boyish charm on show in his earlier comic roles in Ant Man and The Martian.

It doesn’t give the plot away, such as it is, to know that Ponch doesn’t always obey the rules, and has little patience with his naïve rookie partner as he tries to uncover the criminal element within the CHiPs organisation. The plot of this film is not particularly strong or original, and the audience is kept entertained enjoying the visual and verbal humour on display between the two leads.

There were many opportunities to showcase a range of stunts, and by enlisting renowned stunt performer Steve De Castro, plus pros and the best stunt riders for the trickiest and most spectacular manoeuvres, director Shepard ensured these aspects of the film were executed effectively. When Shepard’s character speeds along Californian highways and we get his point of view, the scenes are breathtaking, visceral and convincing, almost making me wish I could ride at all.

Cinematographer Mitchell Amundsen (The Bourne Legacy, Mission Impossible 3 and Transformers 1 and 2) made every action sequence zing, while Los Angeles was impressively utilised in the location scenes.

There were some humorous cameos from comic actors including Jane Kaczmarek and Maya Rudolph as senior police officers, and a brief stint from Josh Duhamel, but the movie belongs to Ponch and Jon and their budding bro-mance.

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