Movies

‘12 Strong’ review: when fiction wins over facts

Based on the true story, 12 Strong chronicles the United State’s first military response to the September 11 attacks in Afghanistan where the Taliban offered the Al-Qaeda a safe haven to plan the destruction of the World Trade Centres. Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) — who has never been to battle — is leader of Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) 575, a team of paramilitary officers and Green Berets. In a very dramatic meeting with Colonel Max Bowers (Rob Riggle) and Colonel John Mulholland (William Fichtner), Nelson convinces them to let him and his men (over five other more experienced factions) to be the first to capture the city of Mazar-i-Sharif and end the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan. To do this, Nelson must collaborate with war lord Abdul Rashid Dostum of the Northern Alliance.

The actual events of the operation as detailed in Doug Stanton's non-fiction book Horse Soldiers (based on a few excerpts found online) is utterly fascinating. The American soldiers had to resort to primitive horseback methods to move around in Afghanistan. They were a small cavalry who ended up facing the Taliban’s tanks and heavy duty vehicles. Against all odds, they emerged victorious.

Director Nicolai Fuglsig’s visual account of the operation exponentially reduces the magnitude of their mammoth task. It’s a shame that 12 Strong resorts to tired tropes: like trying to discredit the Taliban solely by their treatment of women. One lady is stoned for getting pregnant out of wedlock; and another is shot at point blank range for educating her daughters. On the other hand, the noble US military chuckle good naturedly when their provisions are stolen, help orphaned children and bond with child soldiers. Never mind depicting the actual war crimes against humanity the US Army (not the ODA 575) is accused of, Fuglsig could have at least toned down the extolling of their virtues.

Then there’s the film’s attempt to overly dramatise the actual events. It’s highly doubtful that Abdul Rashid Dostum stopped in the midst of battle and agreeably informed Nelson of his killer’s eyes. Or that the camaraderie between ODA 575 seemed more like jocks on a spring break despite the blood, death and uncertainty surrounding them. The wisecrack dialogues and bluster of the soldiers often take away from the importance of their operation. So much so, that it also overshadows the performances of Hemsworth, Michael Shannon (as Chief Warrant Officer Cal Spence) and the other actors. What should have been tense situations end up being superficially serious at best. There’s never that claustrophobic intensity that gunfire induces, with most action sequences coming across as repetitive. Just when you’re ready for the end credits to roll, Fuglsig stretches out 12 Strong unnecessarily yet, till you are ready to bolt when it’s finally over.


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Printable version | May 20, 2022 1:53:02 am | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/12-strong-review-when-fiction-wins-over-facts/article22473430.ece