12 Strong saved by the cavalry

Chris Hemsworth leads the charge as Special Forces Captain Mitch Nelson in 12 Strong.
Chris Hemsworth leads the charge as Special Forces Captain Mitch Nelson in 12 Strong.PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE


12 STRONG (NC16)

130 minutes/Now showing/ Rating: 3/5

The story: Just after the Sept 11 attacks, Special Forces Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) and his team are sent to Afghanistan to make allies of warlords fighting the Taleban. But the Americans, used to fighting with the best technology, find that they have to adapt to Afghan military methods. This includes riding into battle on horseback.

Those who think Hollywood is a hive of liberals making pro-socialist movies led by female heroines should remember that unabashedly flag-waving chest-thumpers such as 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi (2016), Act Of Valor (2012) and American Sniper (2014) come from the same film factories.

This account of a mission that took place in the early 2000s is the latest in the line-up of movies about steely-eyed men locking, loading and leaping out of helicopters, mopping up bad guys overseas to keep America safe.

Based on the true account of a team sent into Afghanistan and finding itself dealing with old weapons and even older ways, the story keeps a tight focus on the nuts and bolts of getting the job done.

This is as much a road movie about Nelson (Hemsworth) and his men riding from place to place, doing one procedural thing after another, as it is a movie about soldiering.

Characters are reduced to thumbnails and there is little of the soul-searching found in other war movies, in which men question the need for war or ask why men kill.

Nelson drops in among the anti-Taleban forces and a range of minor hitches happen, not helped by the lack of trust the Americans and the local forces have for each other.

Some mild fish-out-of-water comedy happens and Danish director Nicolai Fuglsig, making his feature debut, turns pro-American Afghan leader General Dostum (Navid Negahban) into a generic Eastern despot, fond of sayings about "killer eyes" or some other piece of warrior wisdom.

The climactic battle, however, makes up for the somewhat dully handled trudging around in the mountains.

The big blowout involves horses, tanks, rockets and missile strikes - an eye-popping mix of technology from the 19th and 21st centuries - and a fight that rewrites the history books claiming that the last cavalry charge happened 100 years ago.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2018, with the headline '12 Strong saved by the cavalry'. Print Edition | Subscribe