Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
Immediately following the terrorist attacks on 9/11, an elite group of CIA and US Special Forces are sent into Afghanistan. Joining up with an allied General, they look to strike at the heart of Al-Qaeda before any more attacks can take place on US soil.
12 Strong, based on the declassified true story chronicled in Doug Stanton’s book Horse Soldiers, is a tale of perseverance, hope and brotherhood. The men on this team – subtly codenamed Task Force Dagger – watched in horror as the Twin Towers fell and their immediate response was to help stop the people responsible. Director Nicolai Fuglsig, a former Journalist and wartime Photographer, places great reverence from the very beginning, not just on the team but on the mission itself. He avoids overt displays of patriotism and inspirational speeches. The entire team are heroes, not just the select members with the best lines or most screen time.
Fuglsig also spends a great deal of time focused on making 12 Strong as gritty and realistic as possible. The explosions are far from spectacular, and each bullet hits harder and more brutal than the last attention to detail is impeccable. Never once did I think the camera was anywhere but on the field of battle. Fuglsig’s minimal CGI additions only helps make the Film look even more realistic. And while it may seem gimmicky at first, the use of horses makes for a unique twist on the genre and creates striking visuals.
But all of these great elements come at a price, as 12 Strong is really boring. It frequently reminded me of 2016’s Michael Bay-directed opus 13 Hours – where there’s a whole lot of drawn out build-up to a bloody third act battle. 12 Strong is slightly more exciting than that bombastic spectacle, but it lacks true momentum and moves glacially through its 130-minute running time. And while I appreciate that almost everyone is on the same playing field in terms of characterization, I found that I really did not care about any of them. And when the stakes get high late in the Film, this lack of character emphasis becomes downright frustrating.
Despite the lack of depth, the Ensemble Fuglsig has assembled act very well as a team. Michael Peña, Geoff Stults, Thad Luckinbill, Rob Riggle, William Fichtner (sporting the worst bald cap in existence) and Moonlight’s Trevante Rhodes highlight the supporting cast, each one getting to make an impact in some way. The usually intense Michael Shannon is more subdued here as Chief Warrant Officer Hal Spencer, who cancels his retirement in order to go to war. He gets a few great moments, but seems to be lacking the motivation he needs to make this character memorable. Chris Hemsworth does his best to command the squad and the screen as Captain Mitch Nelson, but he is consistently overshadowed by Navid Negahban, who plays the group’s ally General Dostum. Negahban’s commitment to the role and his dialogue is another of the Film’s highlights.
12 Strong is heavily-flawed. While this remarkable true story is inherently interesting, the journey getting from beginning to end is incredibly boring. But the attention to detail given by Fuglsig makes the Film feel worthwhile, giving it a unique edge that is missing from any number of atypical war films.
Warner Bros. Pictures Canada release 12 STRONG on Friday, January 19, 2018.
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