Chris Hemsworth in 12 Strong.
Movie Reviews

‘12 Strong’ Review: If You Like Trump’s Jingoism, You’ll Love This

There is a scene in 12 Strong in which Trevante Rhodes’ Sergeant First Class Ben Milo offers a lollypop to an Afghan kid, after he learns about the loss of innocence in a war-ravaged land. The kid, around 12-13 years of age, proceeds to lick the lollypop with its wrap on. Amused, Milo teaches the poor kid how to enjoy his lollypop. Imagine, a life without the arrival of the Americans, and a kid never knowing what a lollypop looks like.

A supreme exercise in myopia,12 Strong cements the belief that everything beyond the white nations are uncivilized and doomed to perennial darkness.

Nuance be damned, this film is here to announce American heroism. Like most white narratives, it pushes its Afghan counterparts to pure villainy, bereft of any agency. If there’s one, he’s dressed in pitch black, executing a woman in front of her family for trying to educate girls.

Voila! Brave America gets a moral high ground. Where’s Simón Bolívar? America is the liberator of the world.

A still from 12 Strong.

Based on Doug Stanton's non-fiction book, Horse Soldiers, this endlessly manly film is about a team of dozen men who get sent to Afghanistan immediately after the September 11 attacks, for a secret operation. As your head could guess, there is an obvious montage of the men leaving their wives and children home, to fight for the honour of their country. Dropped on foreign soil, they’ve to join hands with local Northern Alliance forces to seize Mazar-i-Sharif from the Taliban.

High on testosterone, Director Nicolai Fuglsig’s treatment is so tone-deaf that he shows no willingness to indulge in geopolitical complexities of the region. He’d rather pamper macho talk, and bro-code.

The script written by Ted Tally (Yes, the same chap who scripted The Silence of the Lambs) and Peter Craig ardently believes in the straightforward American gallantry, it doesn’t mind gross dehumanization of the Afghans as pure savages. Like a trademark Jerry Bruckheimer production, villages get bombed with glee, bullets fly, and the video-game-like violence offers zero concern for collateral damages.

Boys get to have all the fun, and you can feel the delight in the aerial shots of explosions, and arbitrary dead bodies.
A still from 12 Strong.

Logistical hindrances are plainly snubbed, and the American heroes march to victories after victories on horseback, like a badly imagined old western.

Chris Hemsworth as Captain Mitch Nelson is no Norse God here, but he plays it like Thor with a machine gun, displaying the film’s utter indifference for a real-life tale.

In those tricky Afghan territories (played by New Mexico) also lies a mountain of waste, of splendid talents like Michael Shannon, Michael Peña and Trevante Rhodes. Only Northern Alliance General Abdul Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban) tries a little bit of soul-searching, stating, “This is Afghanistan, the graveyard of many empires.” But that’s too little, too late.

A still from 12 Strong.

12 Strong is the kind of film that fits avenging America’s idea of military justice and honour, for their bullheadedness would rather celebrate colonization than explore its ethical quandary.

If you love Donald Trump’s sky-high speeches, you’ll adore this jingoism. Go ahead, have your fill.

(The writer is a journalist, a screenwriter, and a content developer who believes in the insanity of words, in print or otherwise. He tweets @RanjibMazumder)

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