At one point in “12 Strong”, Michael Shannon’s character says, “It’s a hell of a thing we do. How do you leave your family and go to war?” It’s an honest, but simplistic line – and that kind of sums up this well-intentioned but all too familiar film.
“12 Strong” tells the true, declassified story of the “Horse Soldiers”, a team of U.S. Army Special Forces. Just 5 weeks after the 9/11 attacks, they went into Afghanistan to track down and engage the Taliban, often riding and fighting on horseback. Captain Mitch Nelson (played by Chris Hemsworth) is the team’s leader.
Fellow members include Sam, a former history teacher (Michael Pena) and Ben (“Moonlight”’s Trevante Rhodes). They have no idea how long the mission will be. Captain Mitch thinks they will get in, defeat the enemy and back home with their families in three weeks.
Rob Riggle, in a supporting role, plays Max Bowers, one of the officers overseeing the mission. Bowers was Riggle’s real-life commanding officer when the actor served in Afghanistan from 2001-2002.
The screenplay for “12 Strong” is very explanatory. Characters are constantly informing each other (and us) about what’s going on and what they’ll soon be doing. There are also lower third graphics that pop-up at the beginning of practically every scene, telling us how long the troops have been in Afghanistan and their specific location. “12 Strong” uses on screen text more than any film in recent memory.
The style keeps the audience at a distance. We watch, but don’t become engaged with the soldiers and their mission. The story as a whole, while interesting and honorable, isn’t nearly as compelling as most of the other post-9/11 movies.
All in all, “12 Strong” is a watchable military drama, but far from enthralling. The cast works well together (some lighter conversations break-up the tension). The action sequences are definitely the highlights, though outside of some impressive explosions (familiar territory for producer Jerry Bruckheimer of “Pirates of the Caribbean” fame), they’re not very memorable.
Not quite living-up to its title, On The Official LCJ Report Card, “12 Strong” gets a C+.
Running Time: 130 min.