- Product Rating -

12 Strong

| January 27, 2018

It feels as if the January horror dump has always been a genre unto itself, but the past several years have also given rise to another genre: the patriotic January action-drama. On the heels of the runaway successes of Peter Berg, Clint Eastwood, and Michael Bay, 12 Strong is the sort of feel-good morale boost that some audiences want. But for the rest who aren’t already within the choir in which it preaches to, it’s another movie that’s so vanilla that’s it’s sometimes difficult to consume, like someone shoving a beer bong down your throat and pouring melted, sand-sprinkled ice cream into it. Despite some moments exploring clashes of cultures, 12 Strong doesn’t have enough material to cover 130 minutes, instead sanitizing and simplifying what it does depict, almost as if to instill a sense of nostalgia. “Remember the weeks following 9/11? Oh, what a simpler time,” it seems to say.

Based off of the book Horse Soldiers by Doug Stanton and adapted by Ted Tally (The Silence of the Lambs) and Peter Craig (both parts of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay), the film starts on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, immediately afterwards following a group of twelve men sent to Afghanistan to join forces with the Northern Alliance, led by Abdul Rashid Dostrum (Navid Negahban), to dismantle the Taliban. A synopsis so simple matches a film so shallow, and while it will definitely work for patches of its target audience, it lacks any sort of ambition in terms of execution, scope, or hindsight, falling back on the clichés of stereotypical war-torn brothers out of their depth. The punctuation marks here take the form of drab-looking action scenes that speak more to the lack of connection between loudness and excitement.

The cast is easily the largest draw here, and it’s one that the film does not deserve. Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Michael Peña, Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight), and a swath of others are relegated to playing archetypes, but the script’s lack of satisfying arcs relegates their roles once again towards stereotypes. The moments of the film that do ring true are due to the charisma of said performances, of which there are even more to burn through with their interchangeable natures. Tally and Craig throw in a couple admittedly amusing one-liners, but they’re few and far in between and speak more to the writers’ apparent indifference to the material than the attributes of each respective character. It’s all the more disappointing, too, given the fact that the story is a true one and the men on which it centers are real people. Instead, they just feel more like pawns.

In a roundabout way, that kind of works for 12 Strong, albeit in a manner that’s unintentional. The lack of hindsight or gravity that the events, set pieces, and characters are endowed with make the entire film feel as if its story operates within a vacuum. While it doesn’t totally trivialize the material, it also doesn’t portray it with much consequence. It’s more of a series of set pieces tenuously strung together than a cause-and-effect narrative, and the blinders that it has on regarding the political consequences of these events speaks to the movie’s lack of intentionality. It’s more “America, f**k yeah” than anything else.

Technically speaking, the movie exhibits some nice sound work, both in terms of design and mixing, although to alternating degrees in terms of which work comes out on top. The direction from Nicolai Fuglsig leaves not much to speak of aside from the drab color palette that he and cinematographer Rasmus Videbæk (Blackway) thrust upon the screen. There’s a fine line between looking realistic and looking boring, and 12 Strong erases that line from the sand and sprinkles some gunpowder and opacity filters over it. Thankfully, the stimulation inherent to such content remains intact enough to be watchable, shot and stitched together coherently if ordinarily.

But in spite of any criticisms towards or about 12 Strong, do opinions on the film even matter? It’s a Jerry Bruckheimer production through and through, loud and brash, long and one-note. Thankfully, its R-rating doesn’t lead to too much sanitization on a transgressive level, but that’s negated by a rambling script and action set pieces that become increasingly reliant on noticeable CGI and macho silliness. If you do indeed want to want to see an amorphous group of hunky American men kick some ass, just ask yourself if you want to see that for two hours and ten minutes. If you still want to, then fine, don’t mind me. I’ll just be off in my little trigger-free safe space.

About the Author:

Hollywood Film Festival pre-screener and Best Social Media Presence for North Farmington High School's 2014 senior mock elections. Firmly believes that ".gif" is pronounced "jiff".

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