12 Strong: A film as pointless as the war that inspired it

Review: It makes the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan look like ‘The Magnificent Seven’

Chris Hemsworth in '12 Strong'
12 Strong
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Director: Nicolai Fuglsig
Cert: 15A
Genre: War
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Michael Peña, Navid Negahban, Trevante Rhodes, Geoff Stults, Thad Luckinbill
Running Time: 2 hrs 20 mins

If you thought Hollywood couldn't make the ongoing war in Afghanistan look like The Magnificent Seven, then you don't know Hollywood. Nicolai Fuglsig's film, 12 Strong: The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers, was inspired by a real life Green Berets operation in Afghanistan in the days when 'post-9/11' was a newly minted phrase.

But it could just as easily be a rework of a forgotten and entirely uncomplicated oater, replete with lazy genre soundbites (“I’d like to tell you it gets easier but…” and, “You’re no warrior, you’re just another warlord”), unfailingly brave soldiers on horseback, and black hats. Or at least black pakols.

In one memorable scene, three little girls are questioned by the Taliban. When it’s discovered they know their multiplication tables and how to spell the word giraffe, their mother is executed in front of them.

Mostly, the movie concerns the crack US team who are parachuted behind enemy lines so that, in tandem with a local Northern Army led by General Dostum (Navid Negahban), they might claw back the Taliban-occupied city of Mazar-i-Sharif.


‘The mighty Thor’

If wars are won by brawn, it's no contest. The unit is headed by the mighty Thor, Chris Hemsworth, with macho movie veterans Michael Shannon, Michael Peña, and Moonlight's Trevante Rhodes in tow. "You don't have killer eyes", the Afghan general tells Hemsworth; one half expects him to start calling him Captain Dreamboat.

The material is painfully familiar (soldiers leaning over a fallen comrade shouting “Don’t you quit on us”). The tech specs are adequate. The likeable ensemble are largely wasted. The mawkish happy ending is extremely disingenuous.

Afghanistan, we’re told more than once, is the “graveyard of many empires.” The director made his name as a front-line combat photographer, yet here, he shows surprisingly little curiosity about realpolitik.

12 Strong may be more palatable than the sickening gung-ho patriotism of 13 Hours or American Sniper. But ultimately, it feels as pointless and unnecessarily long as the conflict that inspired it.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic