Director: Nicolai Fuglsig
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Michael Peña, Navid Negahban, Elsa Pataky
Runtime: 2 hrs
Rating: NC16 (Violence and Coarse Language)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 18 January 2018
Synopsis: 12 STRONG is set in the harrowing days following 9/11 when a U.S. Special Forces team, led by their new Captain, Mitch Nelson (Hemsworth), is chosen to be the first U.S. troops sent into Afghanistan for an extremely dangerous mission. There, in the rugged mountains, they must convince Northern Alliance General Dostum (Negahban) to join forces with them to fight their common adversary: the Taliban and their Al Qaeda allies. In addition to overcoming mutual distrust and a vast cultural divide, the Americans—accustomed to state-of-the-art warfare—must adopt the rudimentary tactics of the Afghani horse soldiers. But despite their uneasy bond, the new allies face overwhelming odds: outnumbered and outgunned by a ruthless enemy that does not take prisoners.
You would hardly expected a film by Hollywood veteran Jerry Bruckheimer to be understated. After all this is the man who made you believe that oil drillers can save the world from an incoming asteroid and feel for them in the epic Armageddon (and who introduced a bombastic synonym for doomsday to the majority of moviegoers). Unfortunately, 12 Strong defies expectations you may have of a Bruckheimer film.
The feature film debut for director Nicolai Fuglsig, 12 Strong tells the true story of a war mission that has all the odds stacked against it – a group of 12 American soldiers led by a captain who have no real experience on the battlefields have to work together with allies from the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, who may betray them at the drop of a hat, to take over an area under enemy rule before harsh weather conditions set in. Not only that, the territory they are looking at has is unfamiliar ground for fellow American soldiers- no one has experience in those parts of the land and there is nothing that they can read up on that will help them plan and strategise their moves there. The cherry on this cinematic gold cake is that this is actually based on a true story that got written down in the form of a book.
Furthermore, the cast is helmed by the dashing Chris Hemsworth who plays captain Mitch Nelson. Fresh from his Thor escapades, Hemsworth would have brought in the crowds while thespians like Michael Pena and Michael Shannon would pull in the acting chops necessary to make this a crowd pleaser to the critics.
Despite throwing in all the elements of what probably would fulfil the Hollywood crowdpleaser, award-winning movie formula, 12 Strong fails to deliver on the promising premises it was set on. While Fuglsig does a good job of bringing out the camaraderie and sense of brotherhood by leveraging on the easy chemistry that the predominantly male cast clearly have (in scenes where they are joking around or teasing each other or showing a sense of deep betrayal at their captain’s “abandonment” by asking for a deskbound job for the sake of his family), there is never a real sense that the men fear for each other’s safety and wellbeing. Rather than play on the sense of unease that Captain Mitch Nelson displayed in telling his second-in-command Chief Cal Spencer that he hasn’t heard from the Charlie team that he deployed, Fuglsig chooses to chuck away that moment of emotional connection that he set up and the next thing you know, we forget about the Charlie team until it is necessary to bring them back to move the plot along.
The relationship between Nelson and Northern Alliance’s General Abdul Rashid Dostum (played by Navid Negahban), which is key to the success of the mission, is bumpy and poorly developed despite a promising stage that was set where Nelson demonstrates his quick-wittedness by swopping a greeting gift with something that would have been considered taboo but greatly pleases General Dostum who immediately drops one layer of the many layers of veneers he has put on in front of the Americans. In a bid to show how Nelson and Dostum’s relationship rapidly transform from a tense suspecting one to one where the two would risk their lives for each other, Fuglsig, unfortunately, falls back on clichés such as when Dostum tells Nelson how the latter cannot win a war if he “does not have the heart of a warrior” much like Miyagi imparts cryptic Asian life lessons and words of wisdom to the karate kid. Dostum also abruptly softens up to Nelson and shares his background with Nelson and what motivates him to carry on the fight against Taliban with no apparent prompting.
The failure to utilise these rich setups and captivating plotlines is what results in this film with a promising storyline becoming an underwhelming generic war film which leaves you yearning for more and wondering how much better the real life story would be.
(12 Strong had an interesting, real life premise but fails to utilise that fully, becoming a generic war film which whets your appetite for the book it is based on instead)
Review by Katrina Tee