Film Review: 12 STRONG (USA 2018)

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12 Strong Poster

12 Strong tells the story of the first Special Forces team deployed to Afghanistan after 9/11; under the leadership of a new captain, the team must work with an Afghan warlord to take down the Taliban.


Nicolai Fuglsig


Ted TallyPeter Craig | 1 more credit »


There are two kinds of action hero movies – those based on comic book or fictional heroes and those based on real life ones.  Warner Brothers Studios have done well on both fronts, the latter with Clint Eastwood’s AMERICAN SNIPER standing as the best example. 12 STRONG tells the true story of 12 American heroes who took on major Taliban targets after 9/11 that possibly prevented other attacks on the United States.  (February also sees the upcoming WB real action Clint Eastwood movie The 15:17 TO PARIS.)

Based on the non-fiction book “Horse Soldiers” by Doug Stanton and adapted for the screen by Ted Tally and Peter Craig, 12 STRONG the film tells the declassified true story of the Horse Soldiers made up of CIA paramilitary officers and U.S. Special Forces i.e. the US Army Green Berets Operational Detachment Alpha 595 (ODA 595) sent to Afghanistan on October 16, 2001.  The Americans, 12 in number join forces with General Abdul Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban) of the Northern Alliance to help conduct unconventional warfare against Taliban forces.

The 12 are led by Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth), a character inspired by Mark Nitsch.  Among the 12 that the script pays attention to are his Chief Warrant Officer Cal Spencer (Michael Shannon) and Sergeant Sam Diller (Michael Pena).  The others are given little to say or do but to show their faces in the action scenes.

The film does not contain much plot except to illustrate the difficulty and accomplishment of the mission.  The state of New Mexico stands in for the sandy and rocky landscape of Afghanistan.  The atmosphere looks convincing enough.  The battle segments with too much artillery and gunfire make the real enterprise a little too gung-ho.

Good intentions aside, the film contains some preposterous moments, the most obvious being the climatic scene with the American (Captain Nelson) on horseback leading the Afghan Alliance.  (Really?) “He is charging, follow him,” says an Afghan and then comes the glorification of America.

The best thing the film achieves is placing the audience in a totally foreign atmosphere and educating in what is involved in an almost impossible successful mission.  The audience sees the 12 all gung-ho, angry at 9/11 and wanting revenge to do their best for their country.  But when the film first shows them dumped into foreign territory in the dead of night, with practically no knowledge or bearings, one can tell that heroics is often just in the mind waiting for a reality wake-up call.

The film necessarily has to go through the cliched process of showing the soldiers with their loved ones before and after the mission.  Wife and kids are upset at them while the soldiers have made up their minds to put duty over family.  Of course, the promises that “I will come home!” are uttered and made, regardless of reason.

The film obviously displays the real 12 in a photograph at the closing credits.  The film also mentions the monument of the 12 in a statue that stands in NYC.  For a film based on true events with the fact that all 12 survived, it still looks too implausible.



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collateralbeauty_movie_poster.jpgCOLLATERAL BEAUTY (USA 2016) **
Directed by David Frankel

Starring: Will Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren, Michael Peña, Naomie Harris, Keira Knightley

Review by Gilbert Seah

The subject of coping with death has been dealt in dozens of ways in films. In the recent ARRIVAL, the death of Amy Adam’s daughter is tied into the main plot of alien arrival. This worked. In another space film GRAVITY, the Sandra Bullock character is given the grief of a dead child to humanize her character. The ploy did not work and the story looked totally fake. In the recent praised MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, Casey Affleck’s character comes to terns with death in a gut-wrenching emotional tale of redemption. In David Frankel’s COLLATERAL BEAUTY based on a script by Allan Roeb, Will Smith’s character finally accepts his daughter’s death with all the sugar coating of all the Christmas cakes in a pastry shop. Despite attempts to make the story believable, COLLATERAL BEAUTY is plain horrid!

When the trailer for COLLATERAL BEAUTY first appeared on the internet, Guardian Magazine came out with an article heralding the arrival of the worst movie of 2016. And understandably so! The trailer showed Will Smith as a man grieving the death of his daughter by writing letters to Death, Time and Love. Scenes that follow show the personifications of these abstractions with Smith speaking to each of them, played by Helen Mirren, Jacob Latimore and Keira Knightley respectively. The music and mood are sloppy sweet sugary, especially catered for Christmas. Who would want to watch such Hollywood bulls***? There is one word for all this, in the spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge – HUMBUG!

But the film is not all that bad. The reason that Death, Time and Love are in the story, actors playing the parts, is to fool Howard Inlet (Smith) so that he can be deemed mentally unfit to hold on to his shares and thus prevent his firm from being sold. So three employees, who have worked with Howard since the incident of his daughter’s death, Whit (Edward Norton), Simon (Michael Pena) and Claire (Kate Winslet) plot the scheme. But this not not mean that the film is all that good either.

Director Frankel who directed THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA knows how to set up scenes. The first 10 minutes of PRADA when Meryl Streep, the no-nonsense head of the Prada office strides in – to the total disarray of all the other scattering employees is one unforgettable, beautifully executed scene. There are a few of these in COLLATERAL BEAUTY, like the confrontation scene between Howard and Time on the subway train, but the individual set-ups do not work on the whole. The metaphor of the falling dominoes is used to the maximum of a ridiculous three times. The film eventually settles to boredom as it is hard to care for characters made so unbelievable.

It is a complete waste to see Oscar Winners Winslet and Mirren in this silly story. Mirren does bring a bit of dignity into this nonsense but she must be laughing her head off, off screen.

The film partly works when it pokes fun at the credibly of the story. When Howard looks shocked at the sudden appearance of Death, Time and Love, the shock looks genuine – probably because of genuine disbelief. The film is the worst when Howard pines over his dead daughter – the worst of the worst has him watching a video of him playing with her, when she was still alive in a park, and shouting… “Daddy, daddy!” If this scene was not so obviously manipulative, it might have jerked a tear or two from a few of an innocent audience.

There is a twist in the plot at the end which makes no sense to the whole story of what Howard is going through.

Christmas brings along good films – Oscar contenders. But it also brings the worst of Hollywood films – COLLATERAL BEAUTY being one of them.


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