12 Strong **1/2

The story of the first Army unit into Afghanistan after 9/11 is told with grit but no gusto. 

Is it worth $10? Yes 

Military heroism has been chronicled in movies so many times that it's easy to take for granted. Leaving friends and loved ones behind to protect one’s country is a life-changing choice, and soldiers today take the responsibility voluntarily. It’s admirable and creates a sense of gratitude from a country’s citizens that’s beyond comparison.

This reminder is especially relevant in "12 Strong," which follows the first Army combat unit to enter Afghanistan after 9/11. Capt. Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) was ready to retire and settle into a domestic life with his wife (Elsa Pataky, Hemsworth's real-life wife) and daughter in September 2001. After 9/11 he immediately went to Lt. Colonel Bowers (comedian Rob Riggle, himself a former Marine and nicely playing the role straight) and asked to rejoin his unit. He's allowed, and a short time later he's back with Hal Spencer (Michael Shannon), Sam Diller (Michael Pena), Ben Milo (Trevante Rhodes) and his other squad mates (there's 12 of them total, hence the title) as they venture to the Middle East.

The plan, as shared by Col. Mulholland (William Fichtner), is complicated. They're to fly into Uzbekistan, just north of Afghanistan, and meet up with Afghan warlord General Dostum (Navid Negahban), who hates the Taliban. The mission is to trek 40 miles through the mountainous, arid terrain to capture the Taliban stronghold city of Mazar-I-Sharif. The problem is there are other warlords who also want to possess Mazar-I-Sharif, and the Taliban isn't going down without a fight.

Director Nicolai Fuglsig shoots the action scenes as raw, gritty and intense, but also repetitive. The danger heightens as the men draw closer to their targets, which renders a video game cycle to the story: The men enter into combat, survive and advance. Then repeat. It's one-note, and reminders of the importance of the mission do little to assuage the narrative monotony. This would've been more forgivable if the action were shot in creative ways, and/or the various scenarios were more diverse, but neither element does much to make the film more engaging.

Ted Tally and Peter Craig's script is based on the book "Horse Soldiers" by Doug Stanton. One naturally hopes that both the book and movie do justice to the courage these 12 Americans and their Afghan compatriots displayed. We need to remember, however, that just because a movie does justice to a story doesn't mean it renders the events in a compelling way. Authenticity is important in a movie such as this, yes, but the creativity and manner in which the story is told are also essential, and in that regard "12 Strong" is a letdown.

Still, though, it doesn’t feel right to give "12 Strong" a negative review. So I'm not going to. There's just enough in the camaraderie amongst the men to make them likable and have us care about them every step of the way, and because of that, and because of the respect and appreciation they've earned for doing what they do, a moderate recommendation is earned.

Did you know?
The film was shot in New Mexico.

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