Critic’s Corner: “12 Strong” Lacks Emotional Depth

Making its public debut last Friday,“12 Strong” depicts the heroic and true story of the Horse Soldiers, a United States Special Forces team led by Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) that was sent into Afghanistan during the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Based off the book by Doug Stanton, “Horse Soldiers” was the first public introduction to the previously classified task force. A er the declassification of the information, the Horse Soldiers were honored with a statue at the site of the 9/11 attacks.

The Horse Soldiers’ mission takes them through the mountains of Afghanistan alongside the forces of Northern Alliance General Abdul Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban.)

Performances from Negahban and Michael Pena, who played Sergeant Sam Diller, stand out as captivating and impactful.

Diller offers blunt comic relief, and his lines provide context on the history of invasions in Afghanistan. Negahban’s confidence and transparency attracts the audience to the General’s story, rather than into Captain Nelson’s.

Though the amount of action in the film keeps things exciting, the storyline lacks any clear and personal motivation, aside from patriotism, from Captain Nelson and his team. Though Hemsworth seems to be putting forth the effort, the lack of context and backstory provided by the plot development makes his character to feel somewhat one-dimensional.

Despite some plot holes, the film does succeed, as many war films do, at depicting the dedication and bond shared between members of the task force. Many of the members share in their robust sense of humor and comedic self-deprecation which fosters a greater sense of comradery. The Horse Soldiers demonstrate care and thought for the team and share a few tender moments.

The cast has a solid rapport and seems to connect well, though the performance from Michael Shannon, who portrayed Chief Warrant O cer Cal Spencer, leaves a lot to be desired. Shannon’s acting and script is a bit rigid and dry, with rare glimpses into emotion and his own personal depth.

Hemsworth’s wife, Elsa Pataky, plays his wife on-screen and the authentic scenes between the two are some of the more touching moments in the film. The connection and reference to the soldiers’ families back home are kept fairly limited, which also limits the emotional depth of the film.

The emphasis on the relationship between Captain Nelson and his Afghan counterpart General Dostum is a great piece of the story, as many popular narratives about the Iraq and Afghanistan War tend to gloss over potential relationships with allies of the area, instead labeling all Afghans as the enemy. The two, at first, constantly administering tests to each other, learn to enjoy friendly banter and gain each other’s respect and trust on the field.

General Dostum is one of the most rewarding characters of the film, as he offers insight into his own motives for attacking Taliban forces, and humbles Captain Nelson with his candid thoughts on how to be a better soldier. General Dostum’s frankness and matter-of-fact way of speaking makes him a great leader who reminds others of their place, and he has some of the best, most funny lines in the film.

The action-packed scenes features cinematography that does well at maintaining a close perspective on the action and movements of the troops, the style draws in the audience in to feel a more intimate connection with the characters.

Another large focus of the film was Captain Nelson’s determination to not leave a member of his team behind, though again, the script lacks any depth of the emotion behind this promise.

Throughout most of the film, save for a few fleeting moments of insight, the Captain’s apparent lack of feeling leaves plenty missing in the emotion of the film. The storyline definitely could have served well to replace some of the repetitive themes and lines with more provocative thoughts from the soldiers on their feelings throughout the turbulent times they endured in their mission.

While this movie was exciting, it doesn’t earn high marks as the greatest war epic of all time. This is mostly because the film is emotionally unsatisfactory and lacks the level of character complexity that the topic demands. While the emotions could be bolder, “12 Strong” offers a new perspective on the conception and initial strategy of the Afghanistan War and presents strong performances from supporting characters.

Sofía may be reached at
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