I am not a sucker for films about war. Any war for that matter. Ever since I had to see a guy’s guts in Saving Private Ryan, I preferred to steer clear of these true stories. I see enough misery on the news as it is. If a film includes a war that does not include wizards or orcs, I’m not really interested. Yet I still found myself in the cinema the other day, about to watch 12 Strong, starring Chris Hemsworth. The film is based on the non-fiction book Horse Soldiers by Doug Stanton. But the question is, is the film actually okay to watch or is your money best spent on another film?
The Story Behind 12 Strong
It is September 11th 2002. Two planes fly into the twin towers in New York City, killing thousands. The Taliban, and particularly Bin Laden are too blame. In the days following the attack, special forces are sent to Afghanistan. One of those teams, which indeed consisted of only 12 men, got the mission to take the strategically important city Mazar-i-Sharif. In the meantime, they also had to work alongside an Afghan war lord, who was determined to bring down the Taliban. These men were heavily outnumbered, yet still all twelve managed to make it back alive, against all odd. It’s a story that was not told for a long time, as the mission was a secret. Nowadays they do have a statue in New York City. Naturally the film also helps in spreading this story of bravery.
Brotherhood and Bravery
The thing that sets 12 Strong apart from other war films, is that the war itself is not the most important part. Sure, the film is filled with battle scenes, but the relationship between these soldiers and their Afghan allies is far more important. While it is clear who the enemy is, 12 Strong portrays a more complicated picture of the war-torn country. That is the most important thing this film accomplishes. Yes, the Taliban are evil.
But not every person in the country supports the Taliban or is a terrorist. This is shown in a brutal scene where a woman is shot dead in front of her daughters, for providing them with education. Something not permitted under Taliban law. At the same time, the film shows how General Dostrum fights alongside the Americans. He tells Hemsworth’s character Mitch that when he was in charge of the city, girls could go to school and there were movie theatres. In my opinion, it was about time that a film showed the reality instead of portraying all muslims and Arabs as terrorists.
Not enough character development
12 Strong is a film that gets a lot right. However, the film is also heavily flawed in some respects. Most importantly, there is not enough character development. The film focuses on the group as a whole, yet I found myself not caring for any individual. When we were half-way through the film, I still did not know all of their names. The film largely consists of battle scenes, yet I did not feel that there was a lot at stake. Don’t get me wrong, the battle scenes looked fantastic. But as another round of battle scenes hit the screen, I found myself not caring. The few scenes in which I found myself emotionally invested, were too few and too short. Which is a shame, as it could have been so much better.
12 Strong has a lot of things going for it that make it worth the watch. It boasts a strong cast that puts on excellent performances. However, overall the film falls flat and lasts a tad bit too long. If you are into war films 12 Strong is definitely a film you should watch. However, when war films are not entirely your forté, it might feel a little too long-winded.