12 Strong - 2018
Director(s): Nicolai Fuglsig
Writer(s): Ted Tally and Peter Craig (screenplay) / Doug Stanton (book)
Cinematography by: Rasmus Videbaek
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, William Fichtner, Elsa Pataky, Michael Peña, Taylor Sheridan and Trevante Rhodes
Synopsis: After 9/11 a special force team was deployed to be the first ones to attack back against the Taliban.
I’ll be upfront, the trailer of this movie really drives home that the soldiers are on horses. It felt like a gimmick they were trying to force feed the audience; “Hey, you have seen war movies before, but have you seen modern soldiers on HORSES?”. But, I will be the first one to say that I was pleasantly surprised by how entertained I was with this movie overall. While at times it relies a lot on war movie tropes, the story is refreshing enough for me to overlook them to a certain extent and have fun with the movie.
The main aspect that I really enjoyed was the acting. Chris Hemsworth plays Captain Mitch Nelson, the captain of the special force team. He has a clear sense of duty and is ready and willing to go deep into enemy territory to gain any sense of justice over the most devastating terrorist attacks on US soil. Another aspect that I really enjoyed was his sense of brotherhood with his fellow soldiers; he wants to be with them in the heart of war and wants to protect them to the very end. It was also nice to see Michael Shannon as Chief Warrant Officer Hal Spencer, in one of his most subdued roles in a long time. He usually plays either a psychopath or an over-the-top character, but in this movie he is straight-shooting loyal soldier standing beside Hemsworth. Michael Peña, as Sgt First Class Sam Diller, continues to prove he is one of the most charismatic and engaging actors working in Hollywood today. He deserves a leading role.
As for the cinematography, it left a lot to be desired. This movie is set in the Afghanistan desert, so it should’ve lent itself to multiple visually compelling sequences, but overall it looked grey and boring. Most of the scenes were shot with the sun either to the side of the actors or on their backs, and that led to them having shadows over their faces, obscuring the actor’s expressions. Another problem shooting actors with the sun to their backs was that most of the enemy armies looked like shadows in the sand, never letting us as an audience connect to them as villains. It weirdly felt like a third act of a comic book movie in which the armies are CGI grey aliens that the heroes defeat with ease.
Quick note: there are many explosions showcased in this movie, since the main weapons were airstrikes and they felt very Hollywood. It was as if they wanted to make them look cool and ignored the fact that many people were being killed under the explosions.
Another aspect that served as a detriment to this movie’s success was the fact that they didn’t give all of the soldiers enough background for us to fully connect with them. Yes, they show us the families of Peña, Shannon and Hemsworth, but for the rest of the soldiers I had no clue who they were and if I’m quizzed on their names I would fail badly. They also don’t show us why the team is so close, They tell us that they have trained together for years, but they didn’t feel a cohesive team. There wasn’t a moment, an exchange that opened up the backstories as to why they are so willing to put their lives in the hands of Hemsworth or how they came to be so close.
12 Strong is a good war movie that has moments of heart that slightly elevates it above your run-of-the-mill war movie. This is a story I had no idea about from a moment in time that has been mined for Hollywood scripts left and right. From beginning to end I was entertained and at the end of the day that’s one of the main goals of movies. Full of war movie tropes, one dimensional characters and sloppy cinematography but with great acting by its three leads, 12 Strong is a nice entry to the dry box office that is January. Michael Peña is why I love movies.
12 Strong is currently playing in theaters. You can catch it on VOD.
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