12 Strong Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Michael Peña. Directed by Nicolai Fuglsig. Rated R. Opens Friday citywide.
There’s so much patriotic American heroism in 12 Strong that it’s a surprise the movie doesn’t star Mark Wahlberg. Instead we get Australian Chris Hemsworth (with a variable American accent) as Mitch Nelson, an Army Special Forces captain who led a classified mission into Afghanistan in the weeks following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Nelson and his 12-man team were tasked with taking a Taliban stronghold that the Army believed would secure a quick and decisive victory, which makes the unambiguous triumphalism a little disingenuous (given that American military forces are still in Afghanistan more than 16 years later).
Still, the team’s accomplishments in the moment were apparently remarkable, although screenwriters Peter Craig and Ted Tally (working from Doug Stanton’s nonfiction book) and director Nicolai Fuglsig struggle to convey how and why that was, with chaotic, cluttered action sequences and jumbled exposition that often makes the team’s specific goals unclear. The characters and dialogue are all completely generic, with only Nelson, his veteran second-in-command (Michael Shannon) and one other soldier (Michael Peña) getting even a single dimension of personality. The rest of the squad members are entirely interchangeable, their opponents are faceless cannon fodder, and the home front is represented only by a few clichéd scenes of worried wives. The bravery of the real soldiers is buried under a mountain of hokey sentiment and rah-rah bluster.