MOVIE REVIEW: 12 ‘Not So Strong’

Navid Negahban as General Dostum and Chris Hemsworth as Captain Mitch Nelson in “12 Strong.” (Photo Credit: Warner Bros.)

12 Strong

Days after 9/11, a team of American Special Forces soldiers were assembled and sent to Afghanistan to join forces with an Afghan warlord and take out the Taliban hold on the city of Mazar-I-Sharif (the country’s 4th largest city and headquarters of the Taliban training camps). In order to complete the mission, they had to fight through numerous smaller towns occupied by the Taliban. The Taliban were armed with tanks and rocket launchers and the Americans (along with their Afghan counterparts) had guns and horses.

The story of the “horse soldiers” made headlines early on in the American war effort after 9/11 with Donald Rumsfeld reading emails they sent in press conferences to illustrate the unstoppable force of the American forces. The film is filled with much of the same spirit. Of course at the time, the soldiers and the American military had no idea that they would still be in the Middle East 16 years later and the filmmakers don’t choose to use that fact to provide broader context to the battle.  The only big picture message the film wants to convey is that the American military is unmatched in its power, size and spirit. That’s ok, but without a deeper look this movie is another cookie cutter, America rah-rah military movie that you’ve seen at least a dozen times in the last decade just with horses added in.

There is clearly a market, with a loyal audience for these films (American Sniper, Lone Survivor, 13 Hours, Black Hawk Down, The Hurt Locker etc.) but I think to make another clichéd, shallow film that is interchangeable with 10 others actually diminishes the contributions these soldiers have made. This is an interesting story that could and should have been an interesting movie but was instead told in the most boring way possible.

Chris Hemsworth plays team leader Captain Mitch Nelson and does his best to not be Thor on a horse, an attempt that is only moderately successful at best. Of course it’s not Hemsworth’s fault that audiences can’t see past Thor or his celebrity – not being able to disappear into a character is one of the drawbacks of the level of fame that Hemsworth has achieved. The odd choice of casting Hemsworth’s real life wife Elsa Pataky as his on screen wife adds to the idea that you’re watching Hemsworth and some buddies play around on horses instead of believing their characters. General Dostum (the Afghan warlord) played by Navid Negahban (best known for his portrayal of Abu Nazir on Homeland), is the only bright spot as far as the performances go. The dialogue is basic at best and is mostly soldiers trading clichés that soldiers have said a million times before. At one point someone actually says, “We may have won the battle but still need to win the war.” This movie is a lazy attempt to cash in on a built in audience – moviegoers deserve better.