Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Navid Negahban
Director: Nicolai Fuglsig
Running Time: 130 mins
12 Strong is an American film about the true story of Task Force Dagger, the first team of US soldiers who were deployed to Afghanistan in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, and how they joined with a local warlord in the face of insurmountable odds to rid the region of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
At first, I wasn’t expecting all that much from 12 Strong, expecting another explosion-filled Hollywood ‘war’ movie. However, I was impressed to see that it’s actually a film that does a good job as a war movie, and features a genuinely interesting story about the immediate aftermath of 9/11, as well as the internal turmoil in Afghanistan at the time. It may not be the emotionally enthralling or powerful film that it often wants to be, but thanks to good directing, a strong screenplay and some good performances, it’s a strong film nonetheless.
What I really liked about this film was how it placed the premises of history and battle tactics above simple action and explosions. Of course, there is action here, and it’s great fun to watch when it does come, however unlike so many modern war movies surrounding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, 12 Strong tries to inform you about a lot more than just big battle sequences, which had me hooked from the beginning.
Although there is a case to say that the film doesn’t quite offer the appropriate acknowledgment of the USA’s ultimate failings in Afghanistan, this film, focusing on the very first days of the war, is still hugely interesting even with its triumphant and patriotic atmosphere. It celebrates a thrilling achievement in the form of Task Force Dagger, and teaches you about an amazing effort of theirs at the very beginning of the war, something that I found fascinating.
What’s more is that the film moves fairly slowly and calmly over the course of its first two acts. Apart from one or two big bursts of action, the plot is almost entirely focused on showing you how the US had to work with local warlords and tribes in order to gain a footing in the region, portrayed brilliantly through the relationship between Chris Hemsworth, the US captain, and Navid Negahban, the warlord who fights with them.
Throughout, the two have a riveting dynamic, as the tension surrounding the Americans’ impending invasion creates disquiet amongst the ranks of the tribe, while the warlord is never quite fully on the side of the US Army, often putting his own territorial battles at the front of his mind, all of which means that there’s a good degree of drama and tension that runs between the two leads and at the front of the story from beginning to end.
When it comes to the characters in general, I can’t quite say that the film does a great job at getting you emotionally wrapped up in the story. Its portrayals of life back home are fairly generic, and the soldiers themselves aren’t quite riveting enough to make you really feel for them, which means that some of the film’s intended emotional powerhouse moments just aren’t that effective.
However, the film works so well as a historical drama that you can still connect to the story via the wider historical context. I do feel as if there’s an element of this movie that requires a bit of prior knowledge surrounding the events (although they’re so recent that most people do have this common knowledge), but that doesn’t mean that you can’t be both riveted and entertained by this movie.
Finally, looking at the action sequences, I was very impressed to see that there wasn’t an overload of explosions or dumb action here. There are times when the battles do drag on a bit, but as they’re relatively few and far between, it doesn’t feel as bad. Director Nicolai Fuglsig does a good job in keeping the battles fairly serious, and the historical context still stands strong alongside the action, which in turns makes them more interesting, while some strong cinematography and lack of shaky cam is only a plus as well.
Overall, I liked 12 Strong. It’s not the world’s greatest war drama, but it is a film that offers up a riveting historical story about the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, as well as an impressive depiction of an element of the war that many may not know about. With strong action sequences as well, the film is an entertaining watch throughout, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.4.