12 Strong has all the markings of a film geared specifically to pull at your patriotic heartstrings. Not only is it a war drama set immediately following the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center towers, but it’s also an underdog story of 12 American soldiers going up against near impossible odds. “We’re fighting with horsemen against tanks,” says Chris Hemsworth in the trailer. Despite the overwhelming sense of pride, 12 Strong feels rather divided in its presentation.
Following the attacks on September 11, 2001, 12 U.S. Special Forces members joined together to form Task Force Dagger and would be the first ground troops in Afghanistan to fight back against the Taliban. With the help of General Abdul Rashid Dostum of the Northern Alliance, Captain Mitch Nelson and his men would face impossible odds in the hopes of ending the war before it even began.
One of the main elements highlighted by the trailers for 12 Strong is family and how these men are leaving their wives and their children and despite the promises that they made, they really don’t know if they will be returning home walking or in a casket. The first portion of the film shows Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, and Michael Peña all struggling to deal with the fact that they’re leaving their loved ones behind and running headstrong into danger for their country. After that, however, the whole aspect of family is completely ignored in favor of a more generic action war drama.
As an action film 12 Strong does a decent job, but the problem lies in the fact that it’s supposed to be a war drama. The film glorifies the war in Afghanistan and boils the entire conflict down to the good guys aka the United States versus the bad guys aka the Taliban, when we know how much more complicated things were. That being said, I did enjoy Navid Negahban’s portrayal of General Dostum. He could have easily been portrayed as some stereotypical Afghan warlord but the film does a decent job at explaining his motives as to why he wants to overthrow the Taliban and even the other resistance fighter groups. I would have liked to see the film explore his character more, however.
12 Strong is one of those films where the source material is far more interesting than the film itself. Almost immediately after landing in Afghanistan the soldiers are separated into three units so right off the bat the film feels divided through the various viewpoints going on. It wants to be patriotic, but it feels more like it’s taking advantage of the story rather than honoring what these soldiers did. As a result, it’s nothing more than your average action film.