Following the devastating attacks by Al Qaeda against the United States on September 11, 2001, the US military began its counter-attack against the Taliban with the deployment of the ODA 595 Special Forces team, consisting of 12 soldiers led by Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth), into unknown territory in Afghanistan.
The team was tasked with the peculiar mission of meeting up with Afghan warlord General Dostum (Navid Negahban), whose vast knowledge of the geography and alliances of the local regions would allow them to have an upper hand in eradicating the Taliban presence around Mazar i-Sharif.
This unique war story provides the basis for Nicolai Fuglsig’s directorial debut, 12 Strong. Fuglsig does a good job in capturing the unease that these soldiers experienced; both being dropped in a foreign war zone and, even more so, having to forge a dubious alliance with a questionable ally. He also makes a very obvious effort to avoid the safe route of making a stock-standard war film, instead implementing stylistic choices such as slow motion sequences and balancing large action scenes with intimate moments of character development.
Unfortunately, these smaller character-driven scenes have a tendency to fall flat due to an uninteresting script.
The film takes liberties in renaming characters and altering the chronology of events, and it’s somewhat baffling that, given the subject matter, the screenplay isn’t a little more exciting. Moreover, by restricting dialogue exchanges to only a handful of ODA 595 – with some characters serving on the periphery – the title 12 Strong becomes questionable.
Thankfully the cast does its best to elevate the lacklustre writing, with Chris Hemsworth and Michael Shannon delivering notable performances that make it clear they have great respect for the men they are portraying onscreen (despite the former’s American accent fluctuating pretty consistently).
Ultimately, 12 Strong doesn’t seem to know whether it wants to be an action-packed war drama, a biopic or a commentary on the war on terrorism, and though some of its pieces fit well, the final product remains puzzling.
In cinemas: March 8, 2018
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Navid Negahban, Michael Shannon
Directed by: Nicolai Fuglsig
Read our interview with Chris Hemsworth.