12 Strong

At Cinemark

(PG-13)

Grade: B-

It’s almost surreal to see a 21st century American soldier on horseback charging a cluster of Taliban tanks: David and Goliath, the sequel.

“12 Strong” is an unapologetically patriotic war movie that sends 12 American soldiers on a mission to avenge 9/11 by capturing the Taliban stronghold of Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghan city of about 600,000.

“Five weeks ago, 19 men attacked our country,” says a colonel. “The 12 of you will be the first ones to fight back.”

Leading the charge is Capt. Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) who begs to be sent to Afghanistan after the attack on the Twin Towers to exact revenge. Request granted.

Be careful what you ask for, captain.

Very much molded from the “Dirty Dozen” template, “12 Soldiers” assembles a group of eccentric, but brave, soldiers all willing to die for their country.

With war movie clichés galloping beside the horses, the Green Berets saddle up for their mission into Taliban-occupied territory. They team up with an Afghan leader who hates the Taliban: Abdul Rashid Dostum.

The script makes clear that their improbable horses-versus-tanks success was due in large part to air support. Time and time again when they find themselves in hopeless situations they call in the coordinates to the planes above who dispatch pinpoint strikes on the enemy.

Movies like this must have their one-on-one heroics. Sometimes the heroes survive, sometimes they pay for their bravery with their lives.

Although the script stays just shy of becoming a jingoistic flag-waving war film, it never digs deep enough into the minds and hearts of the soldiers. In war films, we yearn for moments of humanity when the warriors shuck their tough exteriors to become vulnerable.

That happens now and again, but not often enough to turn a cookie-cutter war film into a thoughtful exploration of the cost of war – both to soldiers on the battlefield and to those anxiously waiting back home.

The script becomes a bit melodramatic as it focuses on a young Afghan boy who befriends the soldiers only to be thrust into the heart of the battle – a gratuitous Hollywood decoration.

Sadly, but predictably, “12 Strong” tends to glorify war and underestimate collateral damage, including the eventual total cost. Americans are but the latest soldiers to march into Afghanistan only to eventually retreat and leave.

As always, we salute the sacrifices of brave American soldiers, while simultaneously questioning the judgment of those who put them in harm’s way in the first place.