“the real stars are the four-legged variety and this aspect is barely covered once the team mounts up and moves out…which is too bad, because I think the horse soldier revelation was one of the most surprising stories coming out in the weeks following 9/11…”
Patrick King, REEL BRIEF
In the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania, the American people anxiously awaited the for our nation’s powerful response to these sick perpetrators and their leader (Osama bin Laden). But who and how would U.S. resolve to bring justice to al-Qaida in the Taliban stronghold of Afghanistan be implemented?
Within only a few weeks following 9/11, remarkable photos of U.S. military special operators riding horseback in enemy territory were released and explained by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. These horse soldiers were executing the last few thousand meters of American national security policy. Now, based upon Doug Stanton’s best-seller Horse Soldiers, moviegoers are reliving those early minutes, hours, days, and weeks after that fateful September 11th day.
Danish first-time feature film director Nicolai Fuglsig delivers the inside narrative on one of the U.S. military’s greatest feats. “12 Strong” rapidly tells the story of a dozen U.S. Army special operators assigned to ODA 595, a unit given the responsibility to insert itself deep inside terrorist-controlled Afghanistan and assist the Northern Alliance in defeating the Taliban and al-Qaida.
“12 Strong” does an admirable job of displaying the selflessness and patriotism of those who wear the U.S. military uniform. There are, however, several missteps and underdeveloped subplots that don’t squarely hit the mark. Over-the-top acting by Chris Hemsworth, William Fichtner and comedian turned-actor Rob Riggle get the film off to a poor start. Thankfully, two other supporting cast members keep the film moving to higher ground: Michael Pena (“CHiPs”) as the satirist within the heavily armed group and Michael Shannon (“The Shape of Water”), the unit’s old-school Chief Warrant Officer who gives the movie any semblance of authenticity and realism.
Easily the movie’s best parts were the team’s initial embed with Northern Alliance, the American military interactions with a CIA agent already established in-country, and the visual look of Afghanistan’s sheer mountains on the big-screen (thank you, New Mexico!).
Besides the subpar overall acting, this story lacks the sustained excitement and concern for these guys caught in a tough spot and isolated. Both “Lone Survivor” and “American Sniper” capture these emotions much better than this true story. Additionally, U.S. Air Force combat controllers will find the depiction of B-52 close air support too dumbed down for civilian consumption. Yes, there’s some “danger close” terminology mixed in after Lat-Long coordinates are given out over the radio. But the overall homing of bombs using leading-edge laser targeting designators is blatantly missing. Important? Well, it was that battlefield magic which helped secure closer ties between the Northern Alliance and our clandestine military members.
Lastly, the real stars are the four-legged variety and this aspect is barely covered once the team mounts up and moves out…which is too bad, because I think the horse soldier revelation was one of the most surprising stories coming out in the weeks following 9/11 and our initial boots on the ground in Afghanistan.
“12 Strong” is rated R and its running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes.
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