Mere weeks after the 9/11 attacks a team of 12 American special ops soldiers assembled in Afghanistan. Their mission was riddled with unknowns, but their purpose was clear: to destabilize the Taliban’s hold over the region and pave the way for the impending Allied Offensive. To do this they would have to team up with one of the warlords from the fractured Northern Alliance and learn to fight on horseback. 12 Strong is their story.
The film’s tagline reads, “The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers” which, for once, is just as accurate as it is attention-grabbing. It also succinctly highlights the best elements of the movie. We are quickly introduced to the key characters each as they learn of the 9/11 attack. Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) had just barely accepted a desk job, a decision he now vehemently regrets. Chief Warrant Officer Hal Spencer (Michael Shannon) learns as he and his team are picked up from training exercises. They immediately volunteer for the first mission against the Taliban, but not without their former Captain. With some good old-fashioned logic, they are able to convince the higher powers to reinstate Nelson as their leader. Soon they are on their way across the globe to do something.
Upon arrival, Nelson and Spencer are briefed by Colonel Mulholland(William Fichtner) and Lt. Colonel Bowers (Rob Riggle) on the situation. The Taliban have a hold on the city of Mazar-I-Sharif, one of the largest cities in Afghanistan. To destabilize their hold over the city, a number of supply routes and smaller establishments will need to be attacked first. But accomplishing this is no easy task. Maps aren’t very detailed, the mountainous region is peppered with caves, and it’s difficult to tell friends, foes, and civilians apart. Adding to the complexity is they will be teaming up with one of the Northern Alliance warlords with the hope that their mutual loathing of the Taliban is greater than their desire to claim the bounty on any American Soldiers.
“12 Strong” is best when it’s laying out everything these men were sacrificing and the nearly insurmountable challenges that were stacked in front of them. The base story is interesting on its own but becomes increasingly more fascinating as we understand all the complexities involved, many of which were simplified for the silver screen as we learned in our interview with two of the men “12 Strong” is based on. Performances are strong across the board with Hemsworth doing his default hero-thing and Shannon stealing any scenes he’s in. Oddly, the movie loses its footing in the various warfare/action sequences. They start out acceptable but the larger the sequence gets, the more the rough edges become visible. Instead of nail-biting action, it becomes a predictable arrangement of action/reaction shots. The stars of the movie are often shown solo, firing shots, intercut with what could be stock footage of the “bad-guys” falling dead. The final action sequence which should be the climax verges on comical, which is a major injustice to the story being told.
This disconnect between story and action is likely due to the coupling between relatively green director Nicolai Fuglsig and experienced screenwriters Ted Tally(Silence of the Lambs) and Peter Craig (The Town). Considering how well the rest of the material is handled, it’s a minor smudge and shouldn’t discourage anyone from seeing “12 Strong” as the good certainly outweighs the bad.