Wednesday, 30 May 2018

12 Strong ★★★☆☆


Nicolai Fuglsig, previously a photojournalist, has moved into the directing scene with his new film, ‘12 Strong’. The film, starring Liam Hemsworth and Michael Shannon, details one specific part of the aftermath of 9/11 that is probably less talked about than the obvious, and is based on a true story, though the story only came to light a few years back due to the events being classified.

Captain Mitch Nelson (Hemsworth) is a US Army Captain who, upon 9/11 happening, is sent to Afghanistan to lead a Special Forces team of twelve men. He’s inexperienced but determined to see results, and the team is selected to fight alongside the Northern Alliance leader, General Dostum (Navid Negahban), and take over the city of Mazar-i-Shari in order to remove the threat of the Taliban leader. The plan is supposed to take six weeks but Nelson identifies that the weather will cause issues, meaning that in actual fact they have just three weeks to complete the operation.


Fuglsig’s experience as a photojournalist, in particular within a war environment, is obvious from the moment Nelson’s team touch the ground. There’s an interestingly intimate feeling to the way it’s filmed which is somewhat unusual for an action-based war film, with a nice balance of all-encompassing landscape shots from afar and much more personal shots from within the action. It’s fairly gritty and doesn’t have that slickness to it that you might expect (though I’d say that’s more a good thing than a bad thing). 

There’s also quite a heavy Western theme, as one of the main issues the team encounters during their mission is the terrain, which means that the only way to get to the city is on horseback. While this is good to start off with it is overdone as we go through the film, and becomes almost a gimmick (picture: a team of American soldiers sauntering through the desert on horseback, dust in the air - all they needed was wheat in their mouths and tumbleweeds floating by in the distance). 

I did feel some other parts were quite cliché as well, mainly the sad family back at home, anxiously watching the news, and classic “important person critically injured during a climactic scene”. Of course, these things happen in real life, but sometimes it’s better for a film to put a different spin on it, rather than going for what we’ve already seen before. Despite that, it still felt original in the sense of the cinematography and the gripping combination of action and score.


One thing I wish had been focused on more was the relationship between the characters - in particular, the rest of the team. There’s a good focus on the dynamic between Nelson and his comrades Spencer (Shannon) and Diller (Michael Peña), with Peña particularly standing out with his comical sense of humour. It’s also interesting to witness the tension between Nelson and Dostum, which I thought was done really well. However, we just don’t get a real sense of the others, who feel like they’re only there to fill in the blanks. 

While it’s not the most groundbreaking war film to ever be made (to be fair, there’s some stiff competition out there), ‘12 Strong’ is a relatively simple but enjoyable film that explores the lesser-known side of 9/11. It may not do much more than that, but it’s a good watch all the same. 3/5

★★★☆☆
Hannah Read

12 Strong at CeX




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