12 Strong is based on the true story of the Horse Soldiers, America’s first response after the devastating attacks on September 11th. (Possible Spoiler Review)
Starring Chris Hemsworth as Capt. Mitch Nelson and Michael Shannon, 12 Strong follows a 12-man team ODA 595 a small band of Green Berets who were the first U.S. military troops to fight in Afghanistan.
Going into 12 Strong I wasn’t sure what to expect when it came to the story. Would I get an anti war movie, would it be a typical Hollywood war movie with all the usual tropes sensationalizing it all? Surprisingly it felt very grounded that’s well worth your two hours.
If you are looking to see a movie with an anti-war statement or the repercussions of war over a long period then this may not be the movie for you, as you won’t find it with 12 Strong.
The start of the movie begins with actual news footage of the first World Trade Center bombing that happened in 1993 and then moves to other major bombings that took place around the world in the 1990’s all related in some way to Osama bin Laden and the Taliban.
Once past the news footage we are introduced to “Capt. Mitch Nelson” (Chris Hemsworth) as he and his wife and their little girl are settling into there new home when the news of the Trade Center bombings comes across the television.
It’s at this point in the movie that everything begins to move very rapidly. Hemsworth character of Mitch returns to his base wanting the command of his old unit back and not stuck behind a desk. With the help of Michael Shannon’s character “Chief Warrant Officer Hal Spencer” Mitch is given back the command of his former unit.
What little insights or character building we get before they are sent to Afghanistan happens at this point and in all honesty it’s not a lot. Personally I wasn’t bothered by it, but what little insight you do get of family life with Michael Shannon and Michael Pena characters are never addressed at the end and some after seeing the movie may ask why even bother in the first place. If you watch the movie you will know why.
Once in Afghanistan the team takes a specially outfitted Chinook helicopter to fly over the Hindu Kush Mountains and link up with an anti-Taliban faction of fighters known as the Northern Alliance. This is where the team meets up with “General Dostum” played by Navid Negahban who is the leader of the anti-Taliban faction.
“General Dostum” for a good part of the movie has no respect for Capt. Mitch Nelson (Hemsworth) as “Dostum” does not see “killer eyes” in him as he does with “Spencer” (Shannon) this causes some tension between Dostum and Nelson.
The one thing 12 Strong did not shy away from is the brutality of the Taliban. In one scene we see three little girls scared and crying being asked questions from a man dressed in black robes asking the girls questions, like how do you spell giraffe. Once he finishes asking each of the three girls separate questions he turns and kills their mother, but not before we see the woman telling the girls it will be all right and that she loves them. After the woman has been shot he holds up a book telling all who were watching that no girl over the age of eight is to be educated.
Something else that I liked about this movie is not everyone spoke English. Other than “General Dostum” and the U.S. soldiers we were given subtitles for pretty all the other Afghan characters that spoke.
The combat scenes for 12 Strong were engaging and not over the top like you would see in a lot of Hollywood movies. The fighting felt grounded in the realistic sense and in two different scenes showed just how deceptive the Taliban could be in their tactics.
In what turns out to be the final combat scene in the movie Hemsworth character is knocked off of his horse in an explosion and when he comes to everything around him is slowed down in a dazed state looking around with dramatic music playing. Fortunately it only last a few seconds before he quickly snaps out of it. Something I’ve seen in several Hollywood movies dealing with war and was the only time that I noticed it happening with 12 Strong.
This movie is not void of humor either, but the humor we do get comes from the situation the characters are in. At no time did I feel they went out of their way to force the humor, but when it was used it helped ease some of the tension.
If you’re looking for an accurate re-telling of the entire event you won’t get it with 12 Strong. The real life Mark Nutsch in an interview said what you see in the movie is just a small portion of the actual fight. Not surprised to be honest.
The real life Mark Nutsch also had this to say when it came to Hollywood’s interpretation of the events. “This is a fictional portrayal don’t lose sight of that. We were not able to work as closely with the production as we would have preferred, but they did a pretty good job from what we saw of portraying the main players and the spirit of Special Forces in that post-9/11 era.”
If 12 Strong does have a weakness it would be on character development. As I mentioned earlier they never revisit some of the family situations addressed with Michael Shannon and Michael Pena’s characters before they ship out for Afghanistan. You also won’t see any confrontations between the twelve soldiers as to why they are there, they all know why and all volunteered for the mission.
The outstanding character in the movie would have to be “General Dostum” portrayed by Navid Negahban. Negahban character of “Dostum” was a thoughtful calm soldier who has seen plenty of fighting over his lifetime, suffering many personal losses and could tell the difference between what makes someone a soldier or a warrior.
In the end 12 Strong does not try and sugar coat war and does not try and make a political statement about the war on terror or war in general. 12 Strong is a very straightforward movie about the twelve soldiers who were sent to Afghanistan to complete a specific task.
If you had friends or loved ones who died on September 11, 2001 or died fighting in Afghanistan this movie could be upsetting in some ways. Overall I found 12 Strong worth the price of admission and the two hours you will spend watching the sacrifice twelve men took to take the fight back to those who took so many lives that September morning.
12 Strong is based on the novel by Doug Stanton’s non-fiction book Horse Soldiers
Reggie’s Take Grade: B