PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — If you view 12 Strong strictly as a warfare procedural, perhaps it passes muster.
But that gives it the benefit of the doubt, which it doesn’t really earn.
12 Strong is a war drama that tells the declassified true story of an elite Special Forces team, the first to be deployed to Afghanistan immediately after the harrowing tragedy of 9/11.
Their dangerous and improbable mission: to collaborate with an Afghan politician and former Northern Alliance warlord — a general and the eventual vice-president of Afghanistan who would have to be persuaded to collaborate against their common adversary — in an effort to take down the Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies.
They’re led by Chris Hemsworth as Captain Mitch Nelson, who is new to combat, and they’re intent on conquering the strategically crucial city of Malar-i-Sharif.
Among the things the Americans will need are military tactics that are likely to be effective in the unfamiliar mountainous terrain as opposed to the tactics they are used as a result of their involvement in conventional state-of-the-art warfare: this would be anything but.
And they will have to deal with the palpable distrust that spans the obvious and immense cultural divide, with them functioning not only as soldiers but as diplomats as well.
On top of all that in the way of obstacles to victory, these Green Berets face overwhelming odds as they take on a ruthless enemy that easily outnumbers them.
Danish director Nicolai Fuglig (Exfil) works from a screenplay by Ted Tally and Peter Craig that is based on Horse Soldiers, the best-selling nonfiction book by Doug Stanton, its title the nickname of the Army’s Fifth Special Forces unit that rode in on horseback.
But the script only seems to score points at the very beginning and end. The lengthy middle act is an interminable series of shoot-em-up encounters that start resembling a video game.
Now, no one’s asking for extensive political context or character delineation in what is essentially a battle drama. But at least a half-hearted stab at group dynamics would keep our rooting interest from being frittered away, despite such familiar supporting performers as Michael Shannon, Michael Pena, Rob Riggle, and Wlliam Fichtner, and to some degree because of an unnecessarily lengthy running time.
So we’ll ride into 2 stars out of 4. The soldiers don’t run out of ammunition, but the film sure does. 12 Strong is too long.