Aida Vucic | 5/03/2018
While the story of these 12 heroes has been kept largely secret, audiences may experience a slight feeling of déjà vu, probably due to the film following what has become the seemingly frequented path of war films. The film is clearly attempting to revive the trend of Afghanistan war-based films, but with the current state of affairs may have missed the boat.
The film starts off with the horrific events of the attack on the Twin Towers, providing what will be the motivation for our new heroes. Only too keen to serve their country, a group of 12 men are deployed to Afghanistan to work alongside an Afghani general (Navid Negahban) to fight the Taliban and reclaim the city of Mazar-i-Sharif. The mission is a death sentence, but their Captain Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) is determined to make it back, with all eleven men in tow.
Probably the film’s greatest strength, aside from the performances, is its depiction of the Afghan people, which rather than bastardising the people, is more neutral and even slightly favourable. A refreshing change from what has been a succession of American propaganda, shoved down our throat to reiterate America’s status as the world leader and enrich their superiority, 12 Strong tries hard to give the Afghanis agency. In many respects it succeeds, with the Northern Alliance coming across as incredibly sympathetic, grounded in Negahban’s indelible performance. Alas, in it’s presentation of the villains it veers wildly into stereotype territory, creating an array of horrifically broadstroke antagonists that grates.
The film neither ignites a sense of victory nor inspires any hatred, but falls in the middle. There may have been 12 men on this mission but if you followed the film you’d easily be mistaken to think there was only one, with much of the attention focused on Hemsworth’s character. Whilst Hemsworth is more than able to carry the film, the sidelining of the other men hinders the poignancy of the tale. The shelved stories included Michael Shannon and Michael Peña’s character, who both shined at every moment they had of the limited screen time.
It’s an ambitious task to retell the story of 12 men and clearly was too much for director Nicolai Fuglsig to chew. Fuglsig fails to create any tension or suspense and instead lazily chops together random scenes, to an ultimate showdown that is unnecessarily dramatized and is more reminiscent of a scene from a medieval battle with the inclusion of random missiles than the hellish firescape of war. Fuglsig clearly knows the audience he is pandering to; the gung-ho patriot who doesn’t care about the realities of war. It’s a shame, because there are, surprisingly, a lot of excellent elements to the film; it just doesn’t have a director brave or strong enough to address what needs to be addressed, and pull it all together into one emotionally compelling piece.
We can all agree that presently there is little that Americans can be proud of. With a leader set to wreak havoc on the rest of the world, the film provides some inkling of pride. But is it pride when it’s based on a War that has resulted in the death of thousands of civilians and been drawn out for a prolonged period of time? America has lost its shine and not even this film can redeem them.