Charge of the slight brigade

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - INSIDER -

The US could re­ally do with an un­com­pli­cated hero as its long­est war, in Afghanistan, drags on without any clear sense of res­o­lu­tion. Chris Hemsworth more than ad­e­quately fits the bill, de­spite — or per­haps be­cause of — his Aus­tralian her­itage.

The Hol­ly­wood heart­throb’s “dual cit­i­zen­ship” could al­most be seen as an ad­van­tage for the role of Spe­cial Forces team leader Mitch Nel­son, since it dis­tances the actor, just the right de­gree, from 16 years of car­nage and de­feat.

His char­ac­ter is a fic­tion­alised ver­sion of real-life sol­dier Mark Nutsch, who led a team of Green Berets deep into the Afghani moun­tains in a risky at­tack on a Tal­iban strong­hold in the im­me­di­ate wake of 9/11.

Nel­son car­ries sur­pris­ingly lit­tle bag­gage for a sol­dier, since he is a bat­tle green­horn (the re­spect this bat­tle­hard­ened team have for their un­blooded leader is not fully ex­plained.) His mo­ti­va­tion — the col­lapse of the Twin Tow­ers gal­vanises Nel­son into ac­tion — is sim­i­larly be­yond re­proach.

Hemsworth, who has yet to com­pletely emerge from the shadow of his break­through Mar­vel char­ac­ter Thor, plays him as a con­ven­tional lead­ing man. No mat­ter how tan­gled the sit­u­a­tion on the ground be­comes, Nel­son’s moral com­pass never fal­ters.

The movie’s plot is sim­i­larly clear-cut.

The suc­cess of the sol­diers’ mis­sion — across hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres of in­hos­pitable ter­rain, in the face of in­sur­mount­able odds — is tai­lor-made for the block­buster treat­ment.

Their courage is in­dis­putable (at one point, one of the char­ac­ters cal­cu­lates their odds as 50,000 to one).

So is the de­ci­sive na­ture of their vic­tory (at least in rel­a­tive terms).

And the film­mak­ers suc­cess­fully con­vey the con­found­ing na­ture of a war in which al­liances are frag­ile and al­le­giances con­stantly shift.

The horse­back bat­tle se­quences are ex­cep­tion­ally well chore­ographed and the on-screen fire­power is im­pres­sive.

Hemsworth de­liv­ers the ex­po­si­tional di­a­logue with such pierc­ing charisma, au­di­ences will barely no­tice the rep­e­ti­tion (per­haps this is a nod to dig­i­tal na­tives, who might have missed the in­for­ma­tion first time around due to so­cial me­dia dis­trac­tions.)

He is well sup­ported by a strong en­sem­ble cast — in­clud­ing the very de­pendable Michaels Shan­non and Pena.

Real-life wife Elsa Pataky plays his on-screen mis­sus.

And Nel­son’s Afghani al­lies, led by Navid Ne­gah­ban’s Uzbek war lord Gen­eral Dos­tum, get enough screen time to make their pres­ence felt.

As an ac­tion ad­ven­ture, 12 Strong barely fal­ters, but its treat­ment of a com­plex geopo­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion is dis­turbingly su­per­fi­cial.

As such, it feels like a throw­back to sim­pler, more black and white times.


Spe­cial Forces team leader Mitch Nel­son ( Chris Hemsworth) leads his men into bat­tle in 12 Strong.

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