Failing to establish an engaging narrative despite the potency of the source material, 12 Strong is a barely watchable war movie. The only reason why you should see it is to remind yourself of just how bad for everyone wars are. The events you’re about to see happened some twenty years ago and the war in Afghanistan is still going on. This paints a very sad but hopefully sobering truth about war, imperialism, and the military-industrial complex. As it usually happens, the people bear the brunt of the impact.
The Defense Department’s latest 2020 report said war-fighting costs totaled $815.7 billion over the years. Just think of all that money and how it could have been spent domestically. Think how many schools, businesses, infrastructure, or new programs could have been funded. Think how many citizens of the United States would directly feel the benefits of these investments. Moreover, think about how much that would change their lives. Not to mention the poor people of Afghanistan and how much they’ve suffered.
However, 12 Strong is not a movie about that. It directs its focus to the weeks immediately after the September 11 attacks and a unit dispatched to help Afghan warlords take control of the area. This entire movie is very similar to Fury starring Brad Pitt. It features the same unrealistic action minus all the patriotism on display here. And don’t get me wrong, patriotism is a good thing. It’s just you have to be careful not to be manipulated into something else. Those are some powerful emotions that cloud judgment easily.
If you disregard the melodrama and war propaganda, you will find a very unusual story of a unit sent on the most unusual mission. Just 12 guys under the command of the newbie Captain are sent into the thick of it. The story unfolds at a steady pace like in some strategy video game. There’s just enough suspense and character development to prevent you from reaching for the remote. But more about that later. The arid landscape of New Mexico looks surprisingly authentic and it gave the movie a very exotic vibe. Special effects, explosions and other stuff look also pretty cool and juicy.
Captain Mitch Nelson is just about to start working a desk job looking forward to a peaceful life with his family. However, after the September 11 attacks, he decides to join the war effort to retake Afghanistan from the Taliban. His unit is only 12 men strong but ready, able, and willing to do whatever it takes to fulfill its mission. Once in the country, they meet with General Dostum, the leader of the Northern Alliance. This marks the beginning of a dangerous and secret mission to drive the Taliban away.
You can watch 12 Strong for about an hour and a half with a relatively serious face. We follow the unit and the problems they have to deal with, without much support. We learn more about the camaraderie among the men and how they all work together. All this with a pretty solid cast confidently led by Chris Hemsworth. Michael Shannon and Michael Peña were also great in supporting roles. However, once the real fighting starts, this movie turns into something else. The scenes where people on horses are riding through tanks, APCs, and dozens of armed combatants are simply hilarious.
I’m sure that there was some horse riding in real life and that they played an integral part in the war effort. But surely this is not the way it happened. You can see enemy forces just holding their guns and looking at our Wild Bunch as their riding through their ranks. They don’t shoot at them or try to engage them in any way. At the same time, the movie started getting incredibly melodramatic. The scene with Hemsworth and Peña talking about leadership was almost unwatchable. So, if you think this isn’t something for you better skip this one.