Movie review: Characters in 12 Strong reduced to thumbnails, but climactic battle makes up for it

Chris Hemsworth (centre) as Special Forces captain Mitch Nelson in war drama 12 Strong.
Chris Hemsworth (centre) as Special Forces captain Mitch Nelson in war drama 12 Strong. PHOTO: WARNER BROS PICTURES

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), American Sniper (2014) and several more, 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 screw-ups 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 a hundred years ago.

  • REVIEW / WAR BIOGRAPHY

  • 12 STRONG (NC16)

    130 minutes/now showing/3 stars

    The story: Just after the 9/11 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.