Movie Review: 12 Strong Holds its Horses

Movie Review: 12 Strong Holds its Horses
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About the Author

Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins is a thespian and performer who has worked with theatre, film, and TV across Ontario. He comes from Campbellton, NB, and has lived in North Oakville over 20 years. He is a graduate of Journalism from Sheridan College. Twitter: @MrTyCollins

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Most people don’t normally think of horses and Danish documentarians when making Hollywood mega-action movies. And while far from perfect, odd elements of 12 Strong help separate it from the legacy of modern war movies before it.


The premise for Warner Brothers’ new war epic follows an American military task force in the weeks following the 9/11 attacks. New captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) is assigned the first mission with unlikely success. Together with the Northern Alliance, they must ride on horseback to reclaim an invaded mountain city.

Most of the film is well-shot and the jarhead fighters are extremely authentic. Despite some unique elements, however, the plot and themes are formulaic. While the basis true story is an interesting tale, the movie doesn’t teach us anything new about contemporary war.

For years mid-January has been a popular release date for American war dramas. (One has come out in the second or third week of the month every year since 2010.) That also means it keeps getting harder to find original stories to tell.

Thankfully, 12 Strong succeeds on its individuality for two reasons. First, unlike most 21st-century war films, it has a positive and layered depiction of non-Taliban Afghan soldiers. Secondly, the idea of horse soldiers is fairly uncommon, and not your traditional kind of modern warfare.

Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures.

Originality, however, isn’t everything. Director Nicolai Fuglsig has only done books and documentary shorts before, and his inexperience is clear. A full-length semi-fictitious Hollywood movie needs tighter editing and a consistent pace.

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Another example of his Fuglsig’s ineffective direction would be the overlong and repetitive fight scenes. Sure, they’re sometimes cool to watch. But there aren’t any action sequences for the entire first act, and most of them are both too long and similar to the others.

Further editing would have been extremely beneficial. Picking and choosing the best moments from each scene would have cut the movie by 20 minutes. Not only does this make the pace more engaging, but it helps the audience focus on the what actually made the doomed mission so incredible.

Speaking of incredible – a special mention much be made for the little-known Iranian-American actor Navid Negahban. His supporting performance as General Abdul Rashid Dostum (one of the few real people who’s name wasn’t changed in the movie) is exceptional, and one of true talent.

If you’re looking for a spectacular, edgy and fresh war story, 12 Strong isn’t it. Though a unique true story does make for a mildly interesting, albeit average, motion picture.

12 Strong
2 out of 4 stars

14A, 2hrs 10mins. War Action Drama.
Directed by Nicolai Fuglsig.
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Navid Negahban, Trevante Rhodes and Michael Peña.
Now Playing at Cineplex Winston Churchill and Cineplex Oakville & VIP.

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