12 Strong, C+
Rated R, 130 minutes
"12 Strong" tells the inspiring story behind the men who went to Afghanistan following 9/11 and fought the Taliban on horseback. Outside of a stellar cast and some impressive battle scenes, the shaky, vacuous narrative has less to fall back on.
Task Force Dagger, led by Army Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) is sent to Afghanistan following the September 11 attacks, a team that includes CIA paramilitary officers and US Army Green Berets Operational Detachment Alpha 595 (ODA 595) (including Michael Shannon, Michael Pena, Trevante Rhodes and Thad Luckinbill). They join forces with General Abdul Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban) of the Northern Alliance to help conduct unconventional warfare against Taliban forces.
"12 Strong" is a worthy but uneven look at the declassified story of the U.S. horse soldiers, who brought down some key Taliban members in the immediate months following the 9/11 attacks on American soil. It's directed by Danish film director Nicolai Fuglsig in his feature debut and is co-written by Oscar-winner Ted Tally ("Silence of the Lambs") and "The Hunger Games" co-writer Peter Craig, based on Doug Stanton's non-fiction book "Horse Soldiers."
Fuglsig skillfully handles the rousing battle scenes (lots and lots of explosions) but provides little depth or insight into the men fighting the battle as it barely skims the surface of who they were. "Thor's" Hemsworth leads an all-star cast that includes ubiquitous Oscar-nominee Michael Shannon ("The Shape of Water"), actually playing a good guy here, along with Michael Pena ("The Martian"), "Moonlight's" Trevante Rhodes and Thad Luckinbill ("The Young and the Restless") as members of his crew, in addition to William Fichtner ("Prison Break") and comedian Rob Riggle as his commanders.
The nice photography from Rasmus Videbæk and the energetic music score from Lorne Balfe help add heft, particularly to the battle scenes. When the battles stop, there isn't much to go on, and we don't have much personal insight into the men's lives and the motivations that brought them together for these key battles against the Taliban.
"12 Strong" is a serviceable war film yet lacks the grittiness and complexity of other stronger efforts in this genre, only skimming the surface of what made these men tick. That's largely due to producer Jerry Bruckheimer's intent to inspire in the vein of John Wayne's "The Green Berets" (the team even sings that film's theme song) rather than providing insight into the many battles the men faced in and out of combat.
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