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12 Strong

Jan 18, 2018

It clarifies the turgid Afghanistan war scene without being a great war film.

12 Strong

Grade: C+

Director: Nicolai Fuglsig (Exfil)

Screenplay: Ted Tally (The Silence of the Lambs), Peter Craig (The Town), from Doug Stanton book

Cast: Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water)

Rating: R

Runtime: 2hr 10 min

by John DeSando

Yes, Thor wins the battle but has lost the war ever since. Chris Hemsworth plays a stalwart, heroic Captain Mitch Nelson in the docudramaed engagement by Special Forces in Afghanistan after 9/11.  On horseback, much less. The movie is called 12 Strong and 12 American soldiers did succeed in beating back an Al Qaeda warlord. Not one American soldier was lost.

This feat, through a pass that would be considered Thermopylae at any time, was successful because of the cooperation of Afghan warlord General Dostum (David Negahbon), a joint venture that surely must have set the model for our endless and fruitless attempts to bring justice to that rogue country. No country has achieved success in over 2000 years, a testimony to the difficult warfare well described in this film.

Beyond the rocks and hills are no memorable lines (ironic because the writers penned superb Silence of the Lambs and The Town) and no twists of fate. 12 Strong just trudges forward to a mountain pass that promises death except for the dashing captain’s Lawrence-like rush to save the day.

In other words, this is another B war movie with not even 1940’s stirring wisecracks or satisfactory twists. I should note that hints of writing greatness occur when the captain and the warlord engage each other in philosophical repartee. Too little.

The obligatory goodbyes to family and children are there at the beginning and at the hellos in the conclusion. This formulaic stuff does not a great film make.

That’s all folks except the waste of Michael Shannon as Chief Warrant Officer Hal Spencer. While Hemsworth can never seriously be wasted because of his heroic mien and film provenance, Shannon is too good an actor to be given such a lean role.

If you want to make some sense of the Byzantine world of Mud-eastern battle, then see 12 Strong. If you want solid filmmaking, re-see Saving Private Ryan.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at