Review / ’12 Strong'(MA) *** and a half

THE tag “Based on a real event” that often starts a new movie nowadays can portend many things, from apology to papering over cracks in its dramatic wallpaper.

Doug Stanton wrote a book about America’s first military response to 9/11. Then he went on to produce this movie about it. “12 Strong” is more than a Doug Stanton vanity. Danish director Nicolai Fuglsig’s second feature, filmed in New Mexico, tells how a dozen US Army Green Beret special forces troops spent three weeks in October 2001 linking up with CIA-backed Afghani warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban) to take the town of Mazar-i-Sharif before winter’s onset would prevent getting there, fighting and getting back out.

What was at Mazar? An estimated 50,000 Taliban armed with military detritus left by the last army that tried to conquer what has been called “the graveyard of many empires”.

And apart from a few perhaps unnecessary visits to the homes of the three men leading the unit, that provides almost a complete précis of the film’s plot.

Is it worth seeing? That depends on the viewer’s taste. In its favour, “12 Strong” minimises references best described as clichés of the war movie genre and spends an agreeable amount of time as Dostum explains to Capt Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) the Afghani political, ethical and religious elements underlying the conflict. One quite horrifying (and perhaps contrived) sequence has for its apparent purpose to explain another moral justification beside 9/11 for getting so militarily involved so far from home.

The rest is skirmishing as the unit works its way toward Mazar, using horses to speed up the approach toward the target and, in the climactic battle sequence, to perform what may well be history’s last cavalry charge and the final fight during which B52 bombers at 30,000 feet create some spectacular explosive images. Go the Birdies!

One might quibble about how Hollywood depicts guys on the ground loosing off multiple bursts of small-arms fire without seeming to take aim yet having other guys falling down dead as a result. But all we can do about that is accept and overlook for the straightforward telling of a reality-based story with acceptable credibility.

At Hoyts, Capital 6 and Dendy

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