First-time director Nicolai Fuglsig’s unconventional experience prepared him for the making of 12 Strong, now in theaters.
The greatest thing that any human can do for another is to sacrifice themselves for another. Each situation determines the level of sacrifice, however, no greater level of sacrifice occurs than when our servicemen are called to duty. Following the events on September 11th, 2001, the military swiftly and deftly moved in to Afghanistan, encountering an unconventional opposing force.
Based on the novel Horse Soldiers by Doug Stanton, Nicolai Fuglsig’s 12 Strong focuses on an elite group of 12 Green Beret members, part of Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) 595. Their task was to combat Taliban forces using unconventional warfare. While Task Force Dagger was the lead company responsible for those early operations, ODA 595 was on the ground, pushing through the Taliban’s strongholds.
Chris Hemsworth plays Captain Mitch Nelson, the leader of ODA-595. Mr. Hemsworth’s approach to the character was to infuse it with his trademark humor. He also approached the character as a deeply committed man to his family, something we get early on, to his country and to his men and the mission, most importantly. He earns our trust in the early stages of the film as well, especially as Chief Warrant Officer Spencer, played by Michael Shannon, comes to his aid. Michael Pena plays Sergeant Sam Diller who offers his own brand of humor while the acclaimed Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight) plays Sergeant Ben Milo. Both performers enhance the team on the screen, especially during the action sequences and both add to the unconventional nature of the film.
What makes Mr. Fuglsig’s directorial debut so interesting is its unconventional nature. The script by Ted Tally and Peter Craig builds trust quite quickly in our hero with his swift call to action. This is necessary because part of ODA-595’s mission was diplomacy. Captain Nelson not only needed to fight a war in unconventional means, but he also needed to build the trust of General Abdul Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban). This was necessary to build in-country support, but also to get assistance with the other part of their mission, which was to get the lay of the land. The film only touches on this aspect in passing, but does it with the flair of a Jerry Bruckheimer production.
Bruckheimer staple William Fichtner makes an appearance as Colonel Mulholland, the leader of Task Force Dagger. His dry sense of timing and humor enlightens us as to the precarious nature of this mission and the dangers awaiting ODA 595. One of the best sequences in the film is played between Mr. Fichtner and Mr. Hemsworth and is a highlight of the film. Comedian Rob Riggle is yet another unconventional choice if you follow his stand-up and television career, but did you know that he was a Marine? In fact, the name of his character is the name of the man who he reported to as a Marine. It was a delight to see him share screen time with both Mr. Hemsworth and Mr. Fichtner.
Mr. Tally and Mr. Craig’s script uses all of these elements build us up to a moment of pride, as we see ODA 595 on horseback, riding through the mountains in yet another unconventional aspect of this mission: the mountains that make up the geography of Afghanistan are some of the most treacherous in the world that they cannot be walked with great ease, which makes for an ideal place for the Taliban regimes to hold out. Never underestimate the determinism and resolve of the United States military though. This is the hallmark of the producing team that brought us Only the Brave last fall.
The combination of the two production styles truly shines in Mr. Fuglsig’s hands. Mr. Fuglsig is a journalist and won accolades for his work on an untold nuclear disaster. Photos he captured during an assignment in the Kosovo War taught him the art of directing. Much like the subjects of this film, Mr. Fuglsig’s past experiences prepared him for this moment. His eye for photography shines in this film through Rasmus Videbaek’s (The Dark Tower) eyes.
The amount of pride generated from this film sets aside many of the challenges the story has. It is as if the energy and the bravado from The Rock met the bravery and the heroism of Only the Brave with just a sprinkle of Lawrence of Arabia for good measure.
An interview with the Special Forces officers that Chris Hemsworth and Michael Shannon played can be found here.
Now in theaters, 12 Strong is rated R by the MPAA