Movie Beat: Chris Hemsworth and Michael Shannon help balanced, entertaining “12 Strong”


by Jenniffer Wardell

Rated R for war violence and language throughout

Written by Ted Tally and Peter Craig, based on the book by Doug Stanton

Directed by Nicolai Fuglsig

Starring Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Michael Pena, Michael Peña, Navid Negahban, Trevante Rhodes, Geoff Stults, Thad Luckinbill, Austin Hébert and more

Grade: Three stars

 

After years of post-9/11 military movies, we finally got one that’s actually pretty good.

“12 Strong,” the true story of one group of U.S. soldiers sent to Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks, is both surprisingly entertaining and infinitely better than it has to be. It keeps both the genre’s usual maudlin impulses and rampant jingoism to a relative minimum, balancing heartwarming moments and a love of country with a clearer look at the realities of the situation and some much-needed perspective from the Afghans who were on the front-lines fighting the Taliban. On top of that, it’s also a genuinely entertaining story that just happens to be true.

The movie follows Task Force Dagger, which mostly consisted of a group of Green Berets who tore up retirement papers and said no to promotions in order to be sent to Afghanistan just after 9/11. Embedded with a group of rebels who were assigned to take a particular city that was seen as a Taliban stronghold, the group has to fight a crumbling alliance, the harsh terrain, and impossible odds in order to achieve their goal.

Though some of the character’s tactical assumptions about the Taliban and the war in general come across as outdated historical curiosities (and is slightly tragic because of it) the movie actually addresses these gaps and allows an Afghan character to speak to a more realistic portrayal of the future. The movie also does a great job portraying everyone’s love for their countries, the realities of their individual situations, and what they all have at stake.

It’s also a rousing action movie, with close calls, epic battles and narrow escapes. Chris Hemsworth once again proves himself competent at emotional action, and Michael Pena brightens everything up with his own unique charm. Add Michael Shannon as the wry voice of reason, and Navid Negabah is both moving and surprisingly hilarious as General Dastan.

It’s not a perfect movie, solidly functional rather than finely detailed, but it’s still a fine example of movie craftsmanship. “12 Strong” won’t change the world, but it’s a pleasant surprise from beginning to end.

(Photo ©Warner Brothers)

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