Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Review: "12 Strong" is a bombastic yet bright military movie.

12 Strong Review
The story told in "12 Strong" is a good one, a story ripe to be adapted to the screen. Soon after the 9/11 attacks, a "Task Force Dagger" team is sent to Afganistan to combat the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. The team consists of CIA officers and US Army Green Beret Operational Detachment Alpha 595 and they join forces with members of the Northern Alliance; a group of Afghans who stand against the terrorists. Together, they plan some unorthodox combat against the Taliban, and of the twelve Americans who went on the mission in Afghanistan, all twelve came back. Apparently, the Taliban considers it the worst defeat they've ever had. Around 2014, a statue of a soldier riding a horse, which was common during this battle, was placed at the site of the World Trade Center.

The military movies coming out these days, by and large, just don't compare to the movies we got in the twentieth century. Most military movies these days rely too heavily on jingoism and propaganda instead of genuine character development and storytelling. There is a fine line between action movie and realistic warfare that each of these movies must walk, and it seems there is too much action going on in lots of modern war movies. Sure, some are still good and worth seeing, but many don't compare to "Patton" or "The Longest Day" or "Platoon" or even "Saving Private Ryan" and I thought the best years of military movies were behind us.

I'd say that perhaps you can add "12 Strong" to that list of good modern military movies. Its packed full of great actors and they sure do their very best at making this count. On that fine line I mentioned above between action movie and realistic warfare, "12 Strong" plays tonally and visually correct, never tipping into straight-up action, but keeping the thrills high for the audience. It's a hard rope to walk, and director Nicolai Fuglsig and writers Ted Tally and Peter Craig (working from a book by Doug Stanton) is able to treat the material with a delicate yet strong hand at the same time. No easy feat that, and they deserve kudos for their work.

Fuglsig really got a great cast together, and they do outstanding work here. Chris Hemsworth is very good, even though I am not sure he totally ever loses his Australian accent, something he'll have to work on in future films. Michael Shannon just adds another wonderful performance to his already remarkable filmography. Michael Pena always does strong work, and his time in this film is no different. And the big discovery from 2016's "Moonlight" Trevante Rhodes proves that that film was no fluke. He's got some slight comedic chops in the film, but its never overused or out-of-place. The biggest discovery here is Navid Negahban, who plays the leader of the Northern Alliance who eventually has to warm up to the American soldiers. It's a fairly cliche story-point, but the actors involved do what they can to make it relevant, and I think they pull it off. Yes, Rob Riggle is in the movie, and no he's not his usual self. Which I think is a good thing.

It's not a perfect movie. There are some cliches here and there are prominent in most military movies. On the surface, perhaps some will say it is your typical military movie. But the work put into this film is well done in the slightest way that it put itself up high on the list of modern military movies. The cinematography by Rasmus Videbaek is happily fitting, grimey and gloomy enough to set the right tone. The editing by Lisa Lassek does splendid work here as well, making sure there is absolutely no un-needed shaky cam shots in the movie, something I feel lots of military movies are guilty of. In a slow time at the theater as January is, this might keep you warm in these cold weeks.


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