Cinema Review: 12 Strong

Director Nicolai Fugslig has displayed a tedious taste for violence and carnage in over-extended battle scenes in his telling of this true story of a mission by American Special Forces in Afghanistan immediately following the events of 9/11. Opening with archival footage of terrorist acts committed by Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda, he cuts quickly to the gathering of a dauntless gang of twelve, led by Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth), whose assignment will be to link with a tribal chieftain, General Dostrum (Navid Negahban), in the dusty mountains of that benighted country (filmed not entirely convincingly in New Mexico) and thwart the Taliban’s progress. The attempted murder in 2012 of schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai left nobody in any doubt that the Taliban is a hateful, medieval outfit, but opposing factions in Afghanistan and US military forces there and worldwide have hardly shown themselves to be pure as the driven snow. Nevertheless, Mitch and the boys set off in their Chinook chopper like a column of John Wayne led cavalry into the West, singing The Green Berets without a hint of self-parody. Left behind in the kitchens of middle-America are their little women and cute kids. Heroism is a difficult subject to deal with in an age when it’s understood through the idiocy of Marvel fantasies, but Fugslig appears to be abandoning the ‘war is hell’ ethos in favour of an outdated, Trumpian ‘war is great’ swagger that reduces all that happens to a gamer’s mentality. Dialogue rarely rises above the gauche (‘I would follow you anywhere’, spoken by the group’s token Latino to Mitch, made me guffaw), while caricature replaces character in every instance – Dostrum is classic shorthand of the wise, robed leader à la Alec Guinness’s Faisal, while all of the soldiers are straight out of central casting jocks. Our Chris looks good on horseback and is likeable in a boofheaded way, but the movie is too long and, in case its audience needs to be reminded, and despite its triumphal tone, Afghanistan remains a basket case.

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