12 Strong is the second film for director Nicolai Fugslig and it tells the true story of America’s first response five weeks after 9/11. A Seal team was sent in to fight alongside an Afghan Warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum to throw the Taliban out of Afghanistan. The mission was thought to take two years. Their story is simply amazing. Since only recently most, but not all, of the facts behind the story of 12 Strong has been released, there is not much to go on in researching the whole story. I know, I tried. Regardless, 12 Strong is their story.
I could not even tell you if the names of the characters in the film were the same in the real story. It doesn’t matter. Chris Hemsworth plays the team leader, Captain Mitch Nelson and his second in command is Hal Spencer (Michael Shannon). They are friends and rely on each other’s support to even get the assignment in which they had to beat out five or so other teams. Upon entering Afghanistan they meet their contact Mr. Dotsum or General Dotsum as he would become called. He is a proud man of his country and despises the Taliban.
It is revealed that one of Dostum’s own family is now a group leader of the Taliban that the Americans and General Dostum’s squad are fighting. To say that the relationship between General Dostum and Captain Nelson is contentious, to say the least.They don’t trust each other, withhold information that causes undue difficulty to their mission and almost part ways thus violating the tenants of their mission. Even allied, this mission will be difficult, on their own almost impossible. What’s worse is that the twelve SEAL team members must travel by way of horses and are now remembered as the Horse Soldiers.
At first glance, 12 Strong looks like another war film. But the relationship between Nelson and Dostum is front and center and drives this film’s narrative. Sure we get a little insight into Nelson’s crew but not much time is spent in developing them into characters. Fortunately, the script, penned by Ted Tally, Peter Craig and Doug Stanton (whose book The Horse Soldiers is what this film is based on) spend a great deal of time on the relationship of Nelson and Dostum. The battle scenes are a byproduct of how their relationship evolves which is to say the battle scenes are exhaustively relentless and unflinchingly realistic but have a purpose. They are not simply battle scenes for the sake of throwing some action on the screen.
The acting is solid, too with Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Trevante Rhodes, Michael Pena, Robert Riggle ( a real-life vet of the Marines) and William Fichtner heading the cast of A-list actors who bring these characters to life. The supporting cast is strong, too but not much time is really spent on them as characters. I still was connected to their well-being and cared what happened to them. Iranian actor Navid Negahban is terrific as General Dostum, though and really propels the relationship forward. I understood why Dostum was the way he was. I understood that he is a proud man and wants to take back his country from the slime that has taken it from him.
Director Nicolai Fuglsig’s direction is excellent as he lets the story between Nelson and Dostum take its course. He has an eye and an ear for recreating battle scenes that are gritty and realistic. Rasmus Videbaek’s cinematography is as beautiful as it is stark in capturing the mountains of Afghanistan and Lorne Balfe’s score provides some punch to the story and is worth purchasing. At a run time of about 130 minutes, 12 Strong might be long for some but not for me. It seems to be just right for the story they are telling. 12 Strong is a compelling film about pride, honor and duty in the service of your country; here or abroad.
12 Strong – **** out of 5
12 Strong – Rated R for graphic war violence, gore and language
12 Strong – Runtime is 130 minutes
12 Strong is now playing in theaters. Check your local listings for times and locations nearest you.