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12 Strong is the epitome of January films: boring, uninspiring and messy

What do you get when you combine some decent-to-great actors in a generic war film? 12 Strong, which turned out to be worse than I anticipated. From the generic dialogue to predictable tropes — oh, and don’t forget the worst performance to-date from an actor that usually has a good track record — director Nicolai Fuglsig‘s heroic tale falls flat on its face.

Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) is getting accustomed to life off the battlefield. He’s sitting in the living room with his wife (Elsa Pataky) and daughter when the horrible events of 9/11 take place. As he watches the CNN broadcast, his mind immediately shifts to getting his team back together and fighting the Taliban. Thing is, they must advance into enemy territory on horses because choppers won’t dare to fly into the war zone.

Nelson’s team consists of Chief Warrant Officer Hal Spencer (Michael Shannon), Sgt. First Class Sam Diller (Michael Peña) and Sgt. First Class Ben Milo (Trevante Rhodes). To be fair, I can’t even remember the names of the other soldiers because this film doesn’t give a lick about anyone outside of the actors listed above. Each of these actors, however, have the chops to make something out of nothing… or so I thought. Rhodes was fantastic in Moonlight, Shannon was recently brilliant in The Shape of Water and Peña is underappreciated and can bring a good blend of comedy and realism.

But it’s almost as if screenwriters Ted Tally and Peter Craig read the novel this film is based on — it’s also a true story — threw the script at each actor and were told to simply read the lines and get paid. Each moment is so contrived and any ounce of emotion quickly runs dry. Everybody’s performance was phoned-in from the beginning and it only snowballed downhill from there. At one point, Peña even says, “I’ll follow you anywhere.” Shannon — whom I love — was absolutely horrible in this role, proving to be his worst to-date. His stoic approach tries to convey the hardened attitude of a soldier, but it just comes across as distracting and uninspiring. That’s truly the makeup of 12 Strong, though: an uninspired mess.

With any war film comes the big action sequences and moments that challenge others’ psyche.  In one particular scene to demonstrate the Taliban’s horrible actions, a terrorist leader executes a woman at point-blank range. Thing is, this moment did not leave an impact because 1) it was dragged out and 2) audiences are numb to over-the-top violence by the time the film reaches this mark. Nothing was executed properly, and the rest of the film’s two hours and 21 minutes follows suit.

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If there’s one word to truly sum up 12 Strong, it’s “boring.” There is no need for cliché moments where a U.S. soldier makes friends with a young, rebel soldier (then keeping that kid around for every moment and the solider trying to act as a father figure).  There is no need for stupid humor that misses every mark (but no, let’s add some F-bombs because ‘MURICA). And, please, explain to me why this film was obnoxiously gung-ho about war. It would have been far more interesting to see at least ONE of the soldiers on Nelson’s team show a bit of fear. Instead, the film catered to war fanatics who think everything is like video game Call of Duty.

12 Strong is heavy-handed and serves as a masterclass in how to take really good actors and make a barely competent film that probably should have stayed on the cutting room floor. What’s worse is that the film simply doesn’t know when to end. By the end of the two-hour journey that lulled me to sleep in even its loudest moments, I was left wondering:

What am I going to eat for dinner?

Oh, I mean: Why did I just sit through that mess of a film?

I was treated to an early screening of this film thanks to Warner Bros. and Allied Integrated Marketing.

12 Strong is rated-R, runs 2 hours and 10 minutes and hits theaters Jan. 19, 2018.


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