At its core 12 Strong is a standard war film with ideas of grandeur. It needs to be remembered when we talk about 12 Strong that it is produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, the same man who produced Black Hawk Down, so there is a degree of pedigree to this film. Furthermore, this film is beautifully shot; with some stunning vista and establishing shots that really paint a picture. Also, there is a number of interesting decisions by the director Nicolai Fuglsig, such as his use of shadow in certain shots from the base camp scenes that add an artistic flair to proceedings. The character work is strong, but only in one character, Abdul Rashid Dostum; the leader of the Alliance, Played by Navid Negahban. Negahban brings a heart to this film, being the only truly memorable character after the credits roll, his bond with Hemsworth’s Mitch Nelson is very believable and remains good throughout. Michael Pena’s character of Sam Diller is completely one note, and until writing this review I couldn’t even remember his name. Diller is mainly a comic relief character, only the problem with that is that most of his jokes aren’t very funny, just being bad. Secondly, Michael Shannon’s character of Carl Spencer is given more to do and does have some genuinely touching emotional beats, but somehow manages to feel wasted, especially when you compare his performance to that of Hemsworth. Following on from that Chris Hemsworth in this is bland, that’s putting it mildly, really anyone could play his role as he brings so little to it. Hemsworth’s shortcomings are really apparent when compared to Shannon’s performance which managed to be memorable if only brief, and one is left to ask why they didn’t give Shannon the lead role. The biggest issue with this film is the plot, for a start, they have a subplot which revolves around the 12 man team splitting in half, one half goes off to fight, the other stay at the base camp. The issue comes from all the scenes that cut away from the 6 out fighting and goes back to the base camp, these scenes drag on and feel wholly uninteresting when compared to the other scenes away from the base camp. Thankfully this subplot is wrapped up halfway through the runtime, and everyone is reunited. What’s more is there are leaps in logic akin to that of a Michael Bay movie, (the movie also manages to match his level of explosions), which really bring you out of the film. An example is early on in the film, it is revealed that Hemsworth’s Mitch hasn’t killed anyone and that he doesn’t have “Killer Eyes”. However later in the film, he can just kill people indiscriminately, with only one short scene explaining the shift and the toll that change brings to him psychologically. The film in many ways tried to have similar elements to Kathryn Bigelow’s Hurt Locker, even to the point that one of the soldiers in 12 Strong befriends a young boy, just like Jeremy Renner’s character in the Hurt Locker. Furthermore, the film seemed to think that it had something to say, a commentary on war or something of the sort, in a similar vein to Zero Dark Thirty, but it really just comes off as standard and generic fair when compared. To end on a positive the sound design is solid throughout, with the non-diegetic sound during some of the action scenes making it very tense, this does help to elevate the action.
Overall, I learned something from this movie that I didn’t already know it was an interesting perspective. Shannon and Negahban give wonderful performances, and it is stunning to look at in some scenes, however, that aside there is little to elevate it beyond standard genre fare, and the whole thing is rather generic.
Reviewed by Luke.