12 Strong (2018)
On September 11, 2001 the world watched in terror. On September 12, 2001 they volunteered to fight.
If it comes in the queue, it gets a view. I’ve enjoyed myself a military real story movie before, and they generally aren’t bad. Granted, you never really can tell how much of it is the real story and how much has been amped up for viewing entertainment, but either way if it’s a good movie it entertains regardless. More than anything else though, it was the whole “horse soldiers” pitch that sold me on adding this to the queue in the first place - named actors and the likes were largely all just a side note. Is it any good? Hopefully the horse doesn’t say neigh.
The story on display here carries with it the “based on a true story” tagline - which most folks should know doesn’t actually mean much when it comes to movies. There isn’t some ruling authority out there that judges for misconduct and usage of the phrase in movies, so it can be a total farce purely just to attract viewers if it wants. I’d like to think that regardless, there is in some way or form an inkling of truth behind it - even if it’s just a persons dream or some off handed event that snowballed into a feature-length script that got okayed. In the case of military movies, it’s particularly rough because whose really to say unless you were there? In the case of this one though, it plays out much like any others - an event (in this case 9/11) triggers a military response of some sort, and we follow one heroic group of beards and muscles as they deliver some sweet liber-tea. The differentiation in this case largely comes from how the over-seas action plays out, following a good portion of trying to buddy up with a local general so terrorism can be stomped to the curb. In a sense, it’s a bit odd that the movie is actually somewhat low-action in that regard, but it does help build up some of the character motives a bit more in depth than some of the others - but don’t let me make it sound like this is Shakespeare.
Most the characters don’t really get the depth treatment. Honestly, we are even only shown the families of three of the team members, and a large bulk of motivations is simply “hate those darn terrorists” levels of revenge plot. You know, go for the revenge, stay for the saving my men and do the good thing moral core - but whose to argue with revenge as a motivator? The main character probably has some of the most development through his interactions with the local General and the other members of his team, but even then it doesn’t much feel like it’s any sort of progress given he starts and ends in the same real position. If anything, there’s more of a character moment for the watchers, as we get to learn some - regardless of how little - about the place and how it is through the local general. One might even argue that the local General is given the biggest chance for character development and growth, and to some portion of truth wouldn’t be wrong in claiming he had the biggest arc. To be totally honest though, I don’t go into a movie like this expecting revelations and character growth anymore than I go into a classic action hero movie expecting a mind-blowing plot. There’s moments in there to keep some of the soldiers from being flat cutouts, but it largely isn’t going to win anything for characters in the few minutes it succeeds in doing so.
Of course, there’s another interesting thing when it comes to more realistic modern war movies - outfits. See, it has a part of it that falls into that lovely modern time period where it all looks somewhat bland because you are used to seeing it and it therefore just comes off as normal. On the other hand, it has a little bit of range to it through combinations of gear - shemagh or not, glasses or goggles, beard or not - but if you aren’t great with faces, you’ll likely get a few of the side-soldiers confused. Regrettably, it sort of easy enough to say those characters don’t really matter all that much as far as story presentation goes anyways. One thing that these middle eastern war movies do a very good job of relaying is just how hard it is to tell the good from bad when it comes to the old fights in the first place. You never really put much stock into the thought, because in games or more old-fashioned movies it’s always rather easy to tell whose the good guys, but when you essentially have a country fighting itself everyone looks the same. Beyond that, there’s that middle eastern styling that not everyone gets to see everyday to help spice things up somewhat - but outside of the horses nothing really stands out all that much when it comes to costumes.
The actors do a decent enough job while in these costumes. Leader of Charlie team has appeared in multiple movies at this point, and I really just can’t get a good handle on his acting chops from the ones I’ve seen. It almost feels like the most convincing I’ve seen him in is Antman, but perhaps that’s just because he does happy very well and his resting face is so rested that it’s hard to get a feel for him. Our lead has charisma, and most the actors do a fine enough job delivering their lines fine. Nothing honestly stands out too much to me here - a good four or five characters have some nice scenes where they feel really well acted, but for all of those there’s just a desert of seen-it-before burying the rest. As usual, I can’t speak to the foreign lines considering I don’t know the dialect and all the crazy things that pertain to language, but as far as I can tell from the body language it seems appropriate enough. Nobody here does a really bad job - and if they do it’s brief enough you barely notice - but the stand outs are only slightly less rare.
Action, when it finally starts up, is pretty bombastic. I chose my words carefully there to reflect the fact that most the early action is in fact just bombs. Air-dropped bombs specifically. Lovely to watch, great to hear, but not buried to the eyes in bullets action by any means. It will put in a few skirmishes here or there, but until you get to the final battle there really isn’t much in terms of fully locked in action going on. Although it does make it feel a bit more realistic because of it, if you expected a more action heavy movie you might find yourself a little strained as you wait for actual shots to happen. It does a fine job filling in the story outside of these moments, but it also unfortunately isn’t that different from most movies of the type when it comes down to the presentation of these non-action moments. Of all the action in the movie though, only one moment of “cool guys never look at explosions” comes off looking anything short of great.
Audio is also balanced well. The background tracks help with on screen mood, and I did note the final battle sequence had a song that, although not sticking in my head or being particularly over-the-top awesome, was more than adequate when it came to getting the excitement levels elevated for investment. Line delivery is also well heard, and although I can’t speak for any of the foreign lines easily understood regardless of whose experiencing a mild concussion. Cuts are done in a manner that doesn’t lose the viewer unless it wants you to be disoriented, and my only real complaint with how it’s put together besides perhaps a rather drawn out feeling towards the build up to action would be the plenty of hand-held camera footage getting used. Sure, maybe it splices things up when it’s just talking heads or something, but it’s those moments when nothing else is happening and the camera would otherwise be static that it ends up annoying me the most when it wobbles about. Mind you, this isn’t intense bob, we aren’t talking found-footage earthquake here.
If you like the standard military “based on a true story” movie, then you probably will enjoy this one as well. It didn’t have quite as much action as I was expecting, instead choosing more to focus some on a handful of the characters to try and build up motivations or perhaps emotional attachment. What was there was done well enough, but certainly it’s no Saving Private Ryan grade movie in a comparison sort of way. It’s well enough to spend some time to check it out if its on the telly or in your local rental box at any rate, even if there are faster and stronger entries out there.