12 Strong

First Hit:  Interesting story, good action, but I was left wondering how close to true it was.

Army action films can be full of rah rah and full of pro-American sentiment, or they can be about people who are engaged in the war. I don’t particularly like the pro-American films as I find that they are conceived with a miss-informed view of, what is. This film walks a fair line because it, ultimately brings it back to the people.

In this case the people are, Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth), Hal Spencer (Michael Shannon) Sam Diller (Michael Pena) and General Abdul Rashid Dostum (David Negahban). Although these aren’t the only human stories in the film, they are the main ones.

The story is about Captain Nelson, sitting in his new home with his wife and daughter watching TV and seeing the planes fly into the World Trade Center buildings. He goes to his command station where he’s been assigned a desk job. However, he’s a warrior and wants his his commanding officer Lt. Colonel Bowers (Bob Riggle) to let him lead his men for a mission in Afghanistan. His right hand man, Spencer, rescinds his re-assignment papers and convinces Bowers to let Nelson lead him and his team of 12.

The team is a total of twelve men who are willing to follow Nelson anywhere despite his lack of combat duty. Once in Afghanistan, out of five other teams flown in, they get selected by Colonel Mulholland (William Fichtner) to be the first U.S. ground troops to fight Al Qaeda directly. The twelve are to fly deep into the Afghan mountains, meet up with General Dostum and provide air support for his troops who want to defeat Al Qaeda deep in the mountains.

The film denotes the cultural differences between the U.S. troops and the Afghans. It spends way too much time (at 2:10 running time) on waiting scenes and scenes that repeat already made points. I wouldn’t be surprised if a judicious editor could cut 20 – 30 minutes and make the film work better.

The scenes of the bombing and cheering of direct hits seemed very realistic. The interaction with Nelson and Dostum were surprisingly good and developed quite nicely. The terrain was represented well and made the difficulty of the mission realistic. I also liked how the horses were made to be an integral part of this story.

The downsides for me were a lack of backstory about Afghanistan's history of tribes and their in-fighting for territory between their factions. The running time also held back the crispness and clarity of the story.

Hemsworth was OK. The role seemed typical and there was little that made his role, or his performance, uniquely engaging. Pena was great. I enjoyed his counter balance and pointed sarcasm. Shannon’s performance seemed a step down from what he’s done recently but I’m fairly certain that it was the role and script versus him. Negahban was excellent and one of the best parts of the film for me. He carried strength and a slow opening to Nelson during the film. Riggle was good, nothing extraordinary and nothing that stood out. Ben Milo was very good as one of Nelson’s team and I loved how he bonded with his young Afghan protector. Fichtner was strong as the Colonel in charge of the American mission. Ted Tally and Peter Craig wrote a mediocre script. Nicolai Fuglsig didn’t seem to have a great command of what type of story he was telling and it ended up lacking real purpose.

Overall:  Although engaging at times, the length and lack of storyline focus made it seem all and more of its 2:10 running time.