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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.