My Review of 12 Strong, rated R
12 Strong is based on the true story of a military operation in Afghanistan shortly after the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center. This intense film shows the courage of the “Horse Soldiers”, a Special Forces team against incredible odds in very difficult conditions.
The film is directed by Nicolai Fuglsig, in his feature film debut. The screenplay is written by Oscar winner Ted Tally (The Silence of the Lambs) and Peter Craig (The Town) based on Doug Stanton’s 2009 book Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan. The film had a budget of $35 million.
Captain Mitch Nelson, played by Chris Hemsworth (Thor), had recently accepted a desk job at Fort Campbell in Kentucky. However, after the attack on the World Trade Center, he pleads with his superiors to reassemble his 12-man Special Forces team, which includes chief warrant officer Hal Spencer, played by two-time Oscar nominee Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals, Revolutionary Road), Sam Diller, played by Michael Pena (American Hustle, Crash), and weapons expert Ben Milo, played by William Fichtner (Moonlight). Nelson’s orders are given by Colonel Mulholland, played by William Fichtner (Crash, Black Hawk Down), and Lieutenant Colonel Bowers, played by Emmy nominee Rob Riggle (Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice). Told that the mission could be completed in six weeks, Mitch tells his superiors that due to the upcoming winter weather, it will need to be completed in half that time. Their mission is to partner with the Uzbek warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum, played by David Negahban, to capture the Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif, a Taliban stronghold, to prevent another attack on U.S. soil. General Dostum has his own reason for taking on the Taliban. They will be taking on an enemy that has many more men and resources than they do.
When Operational Detachment-Alpha 595 (ODA 595 for short), gets to the base of operations, called the Alamo, the war lord gives them just six horses. Mitch’s team has to get close enough to the enemy to give the U.S. bombers accurate coordinates to drop bombs from 35,000 feet. We see several of these bombs dropped throughout the film and many battles until the final battle which takes place in a large valley, in which Mitch, General Dostum and their men on horseback take on the enemy equipped with tanks and rocket launchers.
The dry mountainous region of Afghanistan is captured well by the cinematography work of Rasmus Videbaek, and the Emmy nominated Lorne Balfe (Genius, Restless) provides a powerful musical score.
Themes in the film include courage, teamwork and patriotism. Content concerns include a significant amount of war violence. In addition to several intense battles, we see a suicide bombing and a woman executed in front of her family. The film also contains a significant amount of adult language, including many abuses of both God’s and Jesus’s names.
12 Strong tells the incredible true story of the Horse Soldiers, one of the first groups sent into action to retaliate after the bombing of the World Trade Center. They go into battle against incredible odds, including having to travel on horseback over the difficult terrain, the number of enemy combatants, a lack of resources, etc. The war violence depicted in the film is to be expected. Unfortunately, the film is marred by many abuses of God’s and Jesus’s names. In addition, the film is too long at 2 hours and 10 minutes. The film does a good job of personalizing the characters, and we see the Captain with the weight of the lives of 12 men on his shoulders. He shows leadership courage, strategic decision-making and wisdom under intense pressure.