12 Strong movie review: A well-meaning war drama with soulless execution
12 Strong unfortunately falls into the segment of a well meaning war drama and yet seems completely inconsequential because of its soulless execution
It seems like every subsequent modern war film is part of the law of diminishing returns. Earlier, a war movie was considered a historic piece of art with a strong anti war sentiment and deep dives into what it means to lose humanity. Nowadays most war films play like advertisements for the armed forces – slickly shot, with great attention to the hardware but little to the soul.
12 Strong unfortunately falls into the segment of a well meaning war drama and yet seems completely inconsequential because of its soulless execution. Directed by first time filmmaker Nicolai Fuglsig it plays like a check list of genre clichés – the soldiers going off to a mission leaving their families behind, bonding with the ‘brothers in arms’, being ambushed by the enemy and ultimately being part of a pyrrhic victory.
This time we follow Captain Mitch (played by Chris Hemsworth) who sets off to Afghanistan to wipe out the Taliban along with his old military pals Sergeant Sam (Michael Pena) and Officer Cal (Michael Shannon). Predictably the mission doesn’t go as smoothly as expected and our star spangled heroes must battle their way to safety.
The filmmakers try to bring something new to the war movie setup with the ‘soldiers on horses’ aspect, but it feels more like watching someone playing Call of Duty. Every action scene featuring horses looks like in game auto pilot filler material, heavily stylised and completely synthetic, which is frustrating considering the depth the film could have explored about the use of animals on such combat missions.
Sure, you get gorgeous wide shots of a large group of soldiers struggling and setting off bullet storms in the dust, but the depiction of supposed soldier’s heroic struggle feels like a TV commercial to join Uncle Sam, if not straight up propaganda.
There are basic amateurish issues with the foundations of the film, for example all the bad guys are clad in black and the heroes are sloganeering champions. The banter between the military bros is as clichéd as you’d expect, rendering the necessity of a big name cast useless because they’re just run of the mill cardboard characters, written by people whose research work was to watch a few war films rather than making the effort to speak with military officers actually on duty.
Hemsworth puts even less effort – strutting about just like Thor with guns in an unconvincing American accent, while Michael Shannon perpetually looks like he doesn’t deserve to be in a desert.
All this ceases to be surprising when you realise this film is produced Jerry Bruchkeimer who prefers visual bombast and chest thumping nationalistic pride juxtaposed to random explosions – a technique he perfected with his pal Michael Bay. After watching the film we understand nothing about the people or the situation in Afghanistan – what is important is America is a great nation and their soldiers are shining beacons radiating the colors of their flag.
Since the equally jingoist American Sniper January has become a market for dodgy war movies with whitewashed personalities, a precedent that Hollywood could do without
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