Review: '12 Strong' stirs unexpected emotions by giving a face to non-American characters

Marcus Goh


PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures

“12 Strong” is an American war drama that’s based on the book “Horse Soldiers”, which tells the tale of a group of American soldiers sent to Afghanistan right after the 9/11 attacks. The bulk of the film follows their mission to capture a city alongside an Afghan leader and his soldiers, with horses as their main mode of transportation.

As with most films based on real-life events, audiences familiar with the history would probably already know how the movie ends, which takes away some of the tension.

However, beyond the eponymous 12 soldiers, there are numerous other supporting characters who, unexpectedly, stir your emotions for them. It’s not executed in the way you might think, and the balanced depiction of non-American characters is rather impressive. They’re seen as diverse individuals who all happen to be of the same nationality, rather than the faceless evil enemy they’re sometimes portrayed as.

PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures

There are some cliches, such as battle-hardened characters who secretly harbour great loss, or mindlessly devout warlords who espouse extreme views. This means that the themes of the film can get a little heavy-handed at times, with no other room for interpretation. It focuses on the usual messages of the futility and sacrifice that war entails, so it’s not a particularly unique takeaway.

Michael Shannon (Cal Spencer) and Michael Pena (Sam Diller) give exceptional performances as soldiers with strong and engaging backstories, allowing you to see just how much fear and uncertainty they hide behind their supposedly strong demeanours. While Chris Hemsworth (Mitch Nelson) may not match these two in terms of delivery, his acting has improved greatly since his earlier days in the film industry, and you can see the tremendous effort in portraying his role.

The combat scenes are gritty and violent without being overly so, and the flow of battle can be difficult to follow at times. Rather than detracting from the film, this instead emphasises just how unpredictable and unstructured war is, which is a major area of character growth for Mitch Nelson.

“12 Strong” may not stand out from most war movies, but the acting and combat scenes are where the film shines. There’s a surprising amount of emotion in the film given all the constraints it has, and you’ll probably find yourself pleasantly surprised at how the story is executed.

PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures

Should you watch this at weekend movie ticket prices? If you like war films.

Should you watch this at weekday movie ticket prices? Yes.

Score: 3.5/5

Secret ending? No.

Running time: 129 minutes

“12 Strong” is an American war drama that’s based on the book “Horse Soldiers”, an account of an American mission into Afghanistan as a response to the 9/11 attacks.

The film is directed by Nicolai Fuglsig and written by Ted Tally and Peter Craig. It stars Chris Hemsworth (Mitch Nelson), Michael Shannon (Cal Spencer), Michael Pena (Sam Diller), Navid Negahban (Abdul Rashid Dostum), Trevante Rhodes (Ben Milo), Geoff Stults (Sean Coffers), Thad Luckinbill (Vern Michaels), William Fichtner (John Mulholland), Rob Riggle (Max Bowers), and Elsa Pataky (Jean Nelson). It is rated NC-16.

“12 Strong” opens in cinemas:
– 18 January, 2018 (Singapore)
– 18 January, 2018 (Malaysia)
– 17 January, 2018 (Philippines) 

Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter, having written for “Lion Mums”, “Crimewatch”, “Incredible Tales”, and “Police & Thief”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.

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