Considering how important the mission was of the “Horse Soldiers” — the first Special Forces team sent to Afghanistan following 9/11 — it’s a shame 12 Strong is as dry as the Middle Eastern deserts. Danish director Nicolai Fuglsig never finds a spark through a bloated 130-minute runtime adapting Doug Stanton’s non-fictional Horse Soldiers.
It’s a shame considering Ted Tally — Oscar-winning Silence of the Lambs screenwriter — has his name attached, because he’s better than this. So maybe it’s Peter “Son of Sally Field” Craig who’s to blame. Or maybe it’s casting an Australian (Chris Hemsworth) to portray a US war hero in a film that’s preempted by a trailer for Clint Eastwood’s 15:17 to Paris where the real soldiers play themselves. Whatever the reason, 12 Strong never finds its footing and is already the year’s loudest Prozac alternative.
For those who don’t know the story, Task Force Dagger — made up of, but not limited to, Captain Mitch Nelson (Hemsworth), Chief Warrant Officer Cal Spencer (Michael Shannon), and Sergeant First Class Sam Diller (Michael Peña) — is sent to Afghanistan to join US Army Green Berets ODA 595 to take down the Taliban. Along the way they must join forces with General Abdul Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban) of the Northern Alliance to do whatever they can to keep themselves alive.
The pace and length kills 12 Strong’s momentum. There’s no reason for this to be 130 minutes. Not a whole lot happens in it. Which is a shame because it’s being advertised with an emphasis on action. It wouldn’t be so bad if we ever cared about the members of Mitch’s team. Shannon and Peña fare the best, but that’s not surprising considering they’re two of the best character actors working today. It’s a shame 12 Strong is so boring because these were real people.
All intensity is thrown out the window if you know going in how it ends. It’s like the opposite of when you watch a movie being touted as “Based on a True Story” and then everyone dies. In this case, when you know everyone lives, there’s never any sense of urgency to their fates. And you’d be damned hard pressed to find anyone who can walk out of the theater and tell you who any of the rest of the team was or what they did. 12 Strong is in need of a serious jolt of adrenaline, as is, it’s another DOA January dump-month release.