Strong movie review: American soldiers against an army that takes no prisoners

Courtesy of Warner Bros

Courtesy of Warner Bros

They say if you like Nicholas Sparks movies, this one's for you.

Hitting theaters on Friday is the new Chris Hemsworth film "12 Strong", which tells the story of a Special Forces team sent to Afghanistan in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks to dismantle the Taliban.

As for the Taliban, the film depicts just enough of their evil to underscore the righteousness of the fight, while the general - who leads his men on horseback - regales Nelson with sober lessons about the region's history to foreshadow the troubles that will follow even a triumphant campaign.

It's a true story, and a wild one, yet while it's been fictionalized it hasn't been fully dramatized.

Not everyone knows the story of the first US combat forces in Afghanistan after 9/11. The movie is rated R for war violence and language throughout. The brown deserts of Afghanistan don't really allow for much variation in scenery or color, but it doesn't seem like anything more than the bare minimum effort was put in to filming.

It's also a rousing action movie, with close calls, epic battles and narrow escapes. Mitch rounds up his unit of foxhole cliches including the soldier he trusts most (Michael Shannon), a joker (Michael Pena), a kind hulk (Trevante Rhodes) and assorted face men.

It's not a ideal movie, solidly functional rather than finely detailed, but it's still a fine example of movie craftsmanship.

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"12 Strong" is produced by Jerry Bruckheimer ("Armageddon", the Pirates of the Caribbean films), which gives the film more of a chest-thumping Hollywood style than some of the gritty, handheld style options out there.

This was director Nicolai Fuglsig's first time directing a feature length drama. All 12 soldiers not only kill the Taliban, but they and their horses live. While 12 Strong never reaches the heights of other underdog military tales like Saving Private Ryan or Glory, it's still a serviceable tale of men who exemplify the old G. K. Chesterton saying, "The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him". As the film starts characters of Chris Hemsworth and Michael Shannon have been given this extraordinary mission and they bid tough teary goodbyes to their families is literally ever soldier movie ever/never made. Nutsch and his men joined with Afghan militia led by General Dostum (Navid Negahban) to take the northern stronghold of Mazar-i-Sharif, which was protected by mountainous terrain that was largely impassable except on horseback.

They soon meet up with local warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum (Homeland's Navid Negahban), who's been fighting one enemy or another since the Soviet invasion 20 years earlier.

Once we knew who the antagonists are, they moved to a scene that had nothing to do with the protagonists themselves, but as a visual of the monstrosities being carried out by the Taliban in villages of Afghanistan.

Retired Green Beret Bob Pennington was also involved in the actual mission. He successfully argues with his skeptical superior Col. Mulholland (William Fichtner) that in the new realities in the war on terror, no one has any real experience, so the task might as well go to him.

At the film's premiere at New York's Jazz at Lincoln Center on Tuesday night, the stars, who mingled with their real-life counterparts, talked about the comradery they developed on- and off-screen. Having his real-life spouse Elsa Pataky play his on-screen wife adds a little emotional nuance.

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