Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Nicolai Fuglsig|
by Doug Stanton
|Music by||Lorne Balfe|
|Edited by||Lisa Lassek|
|Box office||$70.5 million|
12 Strong (also known as 12 Strong: The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers) is a 2018 American action war drama film directed by Nicolai Fuglsig and written by Ted Tally and Peter Craig. The film is based on Doug Stanton's non-fiction book Horse Soldiers, which tells the story of U.S. Army Special Forces sent to Afghanistan immediately after the September 11 attacks. The film stars Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Michael Peña, Navid Negahban, Trevante Rhodes, Geoff Stults, Thad Luckinbill, William Fichtner, and Rob Riggle.
Principal photography began in January 2017 in New Mexico. The film was released in the United States on January 19, 2018 by Warner Bros. Pictures, in standard and IMAX theaters. It received mixed reviews from critics, who praised the cast and action but criticized the by-the-numbers execution and lack of hindsight of the War in Afghanistan.
Mitch Nelson (Hemsworth), a US Army Captain with Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) 595, is moving into a new home with his wife and daughter on September 11, 2001, after receiving an assignment to staff duty under LTC Bowers (Riggle). As news of the devastating terrorist attacks that day break, Nelson volunteers to lead 595 into Afghanistan. Bowers initially refuses, but veteran soldier CW5 Hal Spencer (Shannon), previously scheduled to retire, persuades Bowers to give Nelson command of 595 again, as well as volunteering himself for the deployment. After leaving their families, 595 travels to Uzbekistan on October 7, 2001. After briefing and interviewing Nelson, 5th Special Forces Group Commander, COL Mulholland (Fichtner) selects 595 to fight alongside the Northern Alliance leader, Abdul Rashid Dostum (Negahban).
Arriving covertly in Afghanistan aboard an MH-47 Chinook, 595 arrives 40 miles south of Mazar-i Sharif and meets Dostum. Six of the 12 members, led by Nelson, leave with Dostum to the mountains, while the other six remain in a fortified camp nicknamed "The Alamo" under Spencer's command. Dostum is attempting to capture Mazar-i Sharif, a critical city in northern Afghanistan, from the Taliban. He also holds a personal vendetta against Taliban leader Mullah Razzan (Acar), who rules local communities brutally under strict Sharia law, and has murdered several people, including Dostum's family. Although the warlord is initially skeptical of Nelson's abilities, Nelson gradually earns Dostum's respect. In one battle, however, Dostum makes a tactical error, costing several casualties. Nelson accuses Dostum of acting carelessly with the lives of his men and of withholding valuable information, while Dostum retorts that he still feels that Nelson, and the U.S., is not willing to pay the potential price of the conflict, and tells Nelson that he needs to use his heart and mind to "be a warrior" instead of a soldier. The two eventually reconcile, and, after splitting off a three-man element under SFC Sam Diller (Peña) to strike a Taliban supply route, and being joined by Spencer's half of ODA 595, continue to work together. They win several victories with Dostum's leadership and manpower and American airpower, making significant progress towards Mazar-i Sharif. Suddenly, however, Spencer informs Nelson that another ODA, 555, has been dispatched to support Atta Muhammad, another Northern Alliance leader, who is Dostum's political rival. When Nelson is forced to tell Dostum, the furious warlord and his men promptly abandon 595.
Following Dostum's departure, Nelson plans to continue operating against the Taliban with his Americans and the few Afghan fighters remaining with them. Encountering a large force of Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters and armored vehicles, ODA 595, rejoined by Diller and his element, uses air support to eliminate many of the fighters and most of the armor, but are discovered and attacked. Spencer is critically injured by a suicide bomber, and the team is about to be overrun under heavy Taliban and Al-Qaeda pressure when Dostum returns with his forces. Together, the American and Northern Alliance forces disperse the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, and Dostum tracks down and kills Razzan. After Spencer is medevaced, Nelson and Dostum continue to Mazar-i-Sharif but find Atta Muhammad has beaten them there. Against expectations, Dostum and Muhammad meet peacefully and put aside their differences. Impressed by Nelson and the Americans' efforts, Dostum gives Nelson his prized riding crop and tells him that he will always consider Nelson a brother and fellow fighter. Spencer ultimately survives, and ODA 595 returns home after spending 23 days in Afghanistan.
- Chris Hemsworth as Captain Mitch Nelson, team commander, inspired by Mark Nutsch.
- Michael Shannon as Chief Warrant Officer 5 Hal Spencer, assistant team leader, inspired by Bob Pennington.
- Michael Peña as Sergeant First Class Sam Diller, team intelligence sergeant.
- Navid Negahban as General Abdul Rashid Dostum, the leader of the Alliance and later Vice President of Afghanistan
- Trevante Rhodes as Sergeant First Class Ben Milo, one of the members of Mitch's team
- Geoff Stults as Sean Coffers, one of the members of Mitch's team
- Thad Luckinbill as Vern Michaels, one of the members of Mitch's team
- William Fichtner as Colonel John Mulholland, 5th Special Forces Group Commander
- Rob Riggle as Lieutenant Colonel Max Bowers, Commander of 3rd Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group
- Elsa Pataky as Jean Nelson, Mitch's wife and Maddy's mother
- Austin Stowell as Staff Sergeant Fred Falls, an American soldier on the team.
- Ben O'Toole as Scott Black, one of the members of Mitch's team
- Austin Hébert as Master Sergeant Pat Essex
- Kenneth Miller as Kenny Jackson, one of the members of Mitch's team
- Kenny Sheard as Sergeant First Class Bill Bennett, one of the members of Mitch's team
- Jack Kesy as Charles Jones, one of the members of Mitch's team
- Numan Acar as Mullah Razzan, Taliban military leader
- Ali Olomi as Afghan Man
- Fahim Fazli as Commander Khaled, one of the soldiers of Afghanistan's Northern Alliance
On December 2, 2011, it was announced that producer Jerry Bruckheimer had taken out the script by Ted Tally and rewritten by Peter Craig with Nicolai Fuglsig attached to direct, which was bought by Walt Disney Pictures in 2009 for Bruckheimer, based on Doug Stanton's non-fiction book Horse Soldiers. On March 29, 2016, Deadline reported that Bruckheimer had officially hired Fuglsig to make his feature film directorial debut, which would be co-financed and produced by Molly Smith, Trent Luckinbill and Thad Luckinbill through Black Label Media, along with Bruckheimer's Jerry Bruckheimer Films.
On September 30, 2016, Chris Hemsworth and Michael Shannon were cast in the film, and later on November 1, Michael Peña also joined the film. On November 3, 2016, Trevante Rhodes was cast in the film. On November 14, 2016, Austin Stowell was cast in the film to play Staff Sergeant Fred Falls, an American soldier on the elite U.S. Special Forces team. Lionsgate would handle the film's distribution. On November 15, 2016, Austin Hébert was cast to play SFC Pat Essex, the intellectual and engineer of the team, and the same day it was reported that Ben O'Toole had also been cast for an unspecified role. On November 17, 2016, Variety reported that Navid Negahban was cast to play General Abdul Rashid Dostum in the film. Elsa Pataky was revealed to be appearing in the film in December 2016, while on February 3, 2017, Deadline reported that Rob Riggle joined the film to play Army Lieutenant Colonel Max Bowers, under whom Riggle actually served while he was a Marine Captain.
Principal photography began in early January 2017 in New Mexico. Mines near Orogrande, New Mexico, were used. Later the shooting took place in Socorro, where it ended on January 26 after eight days of filming. The film was also shot in Alamogordo, using the White Sands National Monument as shooting location. The scenes involving military encampments were filmed using 20 structures leased from AKS Military, a private manufacturer of military shelters.
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment released 12 Strong digitally April 10, and on Blu-ray Disc and DVD May 1. Blu-ray extras include the featurettes "12 Strong: The Making of an Impossible Mission" and "Monumental Effort: Building America's Response Monument."
12 Strong grossed $45.5 million in the United States and Canada, and $24.1 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $69.6 million, against a production budget of $35 million.
In the United States and Canada, 12 Strong was released on January 19, 2018 alongside Den of Thieves and Forever My Girl, as well as the wide expansions of Phantom Thread, I, Tonya and Call Me by Your Name, and was projected to gross $15–20 million from 3,002 theaters in its opening weekend. It ended up debuting to $15.8 million, similar to the $16.1 million that war film 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi opened to in January 2016, and finished second at the box office behind Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. According to ComScore, 55% of the opening weekend audience was male, with 79% being over the age of 25. The following week dropped 45% to $8.6 million, finishing 6th at the box office.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 53% based on 148 reviews, and an average rating of 5.5/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "12 Strong has a solid cast, honorable intentions, and a thrilling, fact-based story — all of which are occasionally enough to balance a disappointing lack of depth or nuance." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 54 out of 100, based on reviews from 43 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale, while PostTrak reported filmgoers gave an 81% overall positive score and a 63% "definite recommend".
Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 2.5 out of 4 stars, saying, "...with a running time of two hours and 10 minutes, 12 Strong has at least 20 minutes of scenes that are either unnecessary or repetitive...[it] winds up being an almost-good film about some great American soldiers." Matt Bobkin of Exclaim! gave the film a 4 out of 10, calling it "a lazy attempt at injecting something fresh into the 9/11 narrative."
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