War movies are no longer something niche or particular, though they began that way, war films have developed their own cliches, and tropes like any other genre and most of them can be found in Nicolai Fuglsig’s “12 Strong.” An inspiringly unique story on paper that depicts that of the first 12 men to be sent Afghanistan after the terrorist attack at the world trade center. 12 men who were ordered to overtake most of the northern region of Afghanistan, but they were left to do this on horseback against that of tanks, mortars, and being severely outnumbered. Reading that synopsis, you notice just how overwhelming this task would have been for 12 men, but you wouldn’t get that feeling until the final shots of the film itself.
“12 Strong” is a movie that is going to be revered by many as a great movie due to the inherent bribe of patriotism that is painted by the brush of the screenwriter. However, this film finds itself in murky water for me. The film attempts to provide a sense of complexity to the factually based events with the themes of the emotional toll that murder can have on a man and the sheer amount of confusion that can be created by war itself. While the incentive is excellent, the screenplay struggles to focus on these aspects enough to provide any thought provocation or any resonance for myself. The depth can be found on a superficial level and in that of Capt. Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth), a rookie combat operative but an intelligent and brave leader who battles his way through the doubts of his superiors in providing the Al Qaeda with their most notorious defeat and our most uncelebrated victory.
Though he is a palpable and resonating character/hero, the film never gives the same attention to his companions in battle. Each of these men is equally important to the success of the mission, but the film would have it differently by contextualizing one man as the hero of the entire mission. This is where the tropes and cliches of the genre can be found, as the swooping music comes in and as the camera pans over the battlefield in an aerial shot that showcases the landscape of battle. Though the movie is factually based, the structure of the story is fabricated on the echoes of the genre. I couldn’t help but feel that this was a film that was struggling to create a sense of severity in its story, but it continually struggled in depicting these men as filmatic heroes instead of men of battle. These men are more excited to kill others than to save their own, it’s a difficult style to resonate with that was most likely muddled through in production.
The technical aspects of the film are where “12 Strong” stands taller than most, despite the sound mixing being a bit disarrayed at times by focusing more on the sounds of war instead of the men fighting it. The action and grandeur of the battles are captured in full force though, the camera pans over the battle and uses precise editing to encapsulate the intensity that these men faced. This is also where the respect of the filmmaker finally reveals itself as Nicolai Fuglsig maintains focus on the men fighting the war instead of the glitz and glamour of battle. The explosions are never the focus, but the repercussions of these explosions are. The theatricality displayed is veteran like, but there are flaws to be found throughout this film that keep it from becoming a masterfully resonating story of any kind.
Hemsworth and Shannon can be found in common and uncommon roles for this screenplay. Shannon depicts a hero in the most unlikely of ways, and Hemsworth is back at the helm of heroism once again, but this time it's a hero that can pick up an actual hammer in the land of reality. Both are admirable in their depiction, but the screenplay focuses on one man more than another. This lack of fulfillment by the screenwriter showcases a lack of focus by never spreading out the gratitude that was rightfully earned by these men. The lack of motifs or integrity given to them as men is also a noticeable flaw as none of these men are given traits that make them believable or tangible. They are merely warriors for patriotism, nothing more and nothing less.
“12 Strong” has a lot of things it does right, and it has a ton of things it does wrong. It’s better than the average patriotic swelling war film, but the lack of balance and focus to be found showcase just how flawed filmmakers can be in trying to justify patriotism through war. War is never something that should be relished, but “12 Strong” and many other films do just that, but it does do it in a more subtle fashion than most, which is much appreciated by myself.