Director: Nicolai Fuglsig.
At first glance at the poster, I thought this looked like a ridiculous B-movie picture bolstered by a popular cast of flavours of the year with Hemsworth, Peña and Shannon. But upon taking a closer look, you discover that it’s based on a real life conflict during the Afghani Wars after 9/11.
It’s a true story based on American journalist, Doug Stanton’s best-selling book “Horse Soldiers” that was first published in 2009, about a relatively small number of US special forces combatants sent to Afghanistan in an immediate retaliatory response to the horrific 9/11 attack, kicking off Operation Enduring Freedom.
Hemsworth plays the newly appointed captain Mitch Nelson who is one of the first to lead a team of Green Berets into enemy territory to rendezvous with the CIA and provide support to the Afghani General Abdul Rashid Dostum, his small but frightfully loyal calvary and the Northern Alliance (United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan) in a joint conflict to liberate the city of Mazar-i-Sharif from the Taliban who had occupied and dominated the city since 1998.
It’s a Bruckheimer production so you can expect some grand, explosive action and the choice of director was intriguing to me. Not knowing anything about Nicolia Fuglsig with this being his feature length directorial debut; but he must have something to offer with Bruckheimer and a big cast behind him. What I did find out, was that he a highly respected, award winning photojournalist and just when I wondering how daunting it must have been for him to take on such a project, I realise probably not much with him having photographed and filmed during the Kosovo War.
Hemsworth’s is typically heroic, but co-stars Peña, Shannon and Rhodes all bring a decent amount of character and chemistry to keep him in check. Negahban’s portrayal of the Afghan General is also brilliant, though the depiction of Dostum could be questionable. He just comes across as that ally you really want on your side and appears to have his morals, goals and heart in the right place. A portrayal people of war might find unfitting, knowing about his own accusations and urban myths.
There’s some great heroics here, structured and even though clichéd it’s at an acceptable level that works. It quickly stops being about a revenge film for the fallen and turns its focus on the courage of all the men involved which I found inspiring. It’s not quite as impactful to similar recent films like Lone Survivor and 13 Hours, but the spirit and respect is very much there.
Almost reminiscent of famed heroic stories like the battle of Thermopylae where a small band of warriors go up against near impossible odds of cold, hunger, against tanks and artillery with only guns and tactics on hungry horsebacks. And this actually happened. I think it’s the story, more than the stars and the direction that really makes this film so engaging.
Without trying to sound like it glorifies war, because I don’t believe it does, it instead displays a necessity of war and rules of engagement; it does paint a better, stronger picture of the US forces and shines a reason as to why they are feared; their use of tactics and strategical air strikes with zero civilian casualties. Dostum himself has been quoted in a rare and incredible interview by the brilliant conflict reporter, Robert Young Pelton, “I asked for a few Americans, they brought with them the courage of a whole army.”
With reference to Robert Young Pelton, I strongly suggest reading his astounding article titled “Dostum and 12 Strong: The Legend of Heavy D and the Boys” and of course, Stanton’s book, after watching this which shows how historically accurate this film is to the actual events that took place. There’s obviously pieces created for dramatic effect but the core of the story, the most important and impressive elements are all there which made this film educational to me.
Besides for all of that, the production team do well to recreate a believable Afghani landscape, mostly filmed in New Mexico. The tech, makeup and wardrobe all fitting; and my personal favourite Lorne Balfe does yet another good score, though not my favourite piece of his work.
Overall, this film impressed me in more ways than one, but it’s the spirit and bond the two allies form that’s really a hope-inspiring notion. I feel it’s a grand gesture to both the book it comes from and to the real fighters who fought this in this war.
Running Time: 8
The Cast: 8
Job Description: 10
The Extra Bonus Point: 10 for an incredible true war story of our generation.
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