'12 Strong' Weaker Than Expected

“12 Strong” depicts the previously classified military campaign of a team of army soldiers working with Afghanistan militias to destabilize regional Taliban control in the month following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

After having begun readjusting to civilian life, 12 soldiers of the United States Army are called into action to establish relationships with the Northern Alliance and secure a foothold in the field that would become crucial for the coming War on Terror that would be waged within the region to this day.

In the true fashion of a January theatrical release however, whatever the audience is meant to actually take away from this is just about anyone’s meaningless guess.

 Courtesy photos

Courtesy photos

All credit where it’s due, as with any declassified military operation, it’s always nice to see unsung heroes getting their due, even if it’s in a polished up and watered down Hollywood depiction of the mission in question in which the actors depicting them barely contain even a passing resemblance.

Additionally to the film’s credit, said cast is also one of its greatest saving graces. Any of the titular 12 in question that aren’t played by a name carrying some sort of clout get generally glossed over but still carry themselves with a commendable presence expected of solid character actors.

Of the members that actually do get noticeable attention, Chris Hemsworth continues to prove his salt as a charismatic leading man, walking the fine line flawlessly between a soldier at the top of his game in training that is still seeing combat for the first time. Meanwhile, Michael Peña gets to work his chops in drama in a shift from his typically comedic work, which is always nice to see, and Michael Shannon gets to break type from his usually antagonistic roles to be a guy that you actually like and want to root for, while reminding the audience of why he’s so good at his job.

It’s a good thing “12 Strong” boasts that talent because it sure doesn’t have anything unique to say about its actual subject matter, despite the bizarre spectacle to which it lends its circumstances.

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Forgoing any sense of character study that could be gleaned from men unexpectedly tossed back into combat after an era of tumultuous peace in order to navigate regional politics with people whose allegiances are never set in stone, or situational nuance that could be explored through the perilous landscape that sees its protagonists carrying out most combat and scouting missions on horseback, the movie basically plays out as a standard “cowboys and Indians-esque” combat fantasy in which the action set pieces are meant to be the star.

Is this mildly insensitive and potential wasting? Absolutely, especially when the more exploitative aspects of Taliban oppression of women and girls comes up for the sole purpose of redundantly reinforcing that the people that planned the 9/11 attacks are bad guys in a scene of civilian slaughter that could literally be cut out from the film whole with no impact on editing whatsoever. The real killer blow, however, is ultimately how astonishingly average these action beats are.

The set up may be fascinating, but the horseback riding gimmick that made the entire campaign so unique doesn’t really amount to much in the grand scheme of things and between occasionally lack luster edits between cuts that can make the multilayered terrain difficult to discern in the heat of heavy fire and jarringly unconvincing blood splatter, the carnage falls into an unfortunate territory of lacking any true bite as being anti-war while never rising above the level of merely okay in terms of spectacle.

When the whole thing is said and done, “12 Strong” comes off as a shallow, unintentionally insensitive, forgettable project at worst but only a mildly diverting and ultimately pedestrian viewing experience at best, especially in the face of completion in the post 9/11 war film market such as “American Sniper” and “Lone Survivor.” This is a movie that unfortunately never manages to rise to even the halfway mark of interesting that its own premise carries.

2 out of 5

Graduating from Texas A&M University—Commerce with a bachelor's degree in News and Editorial Journalism, Jordan Wright has lived most of his adult life professionally critiquing films, from major blockbusters to indie dramas, and has no intentions of stopping.