Charge of the slight brigade
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.