'12 Strong' reminds us Hollywood can still crank out a patriotic war movie while 'Forever My Girl' brings romance back to the big screen.
You may want to Google the story behind “12 Strong” before lining up to see it.
How could a small group of Green Berets strike a blow against the Taliban … while riding horses?
Hollywood monkeyed with some of the details, but the story itself isn’t Fake News. That makes “12 Strong” compelling above and beyond its muscular storytelling. It’s also that rare war film that leaves both politics and pearl clutching off screen.
Chris Hemsworth stars as Captain Mitch Nelson, a Green Beret itching for a fight following the Sept. 11 attacks. He’ll get that, and then some, when he’s assigned to lead a small Special Forces group to invade Afghanistan and attack the Taliban.
He’s joined by Hal Spencer (Michael Shannon), a trusted friend ready to back Mitch up in any way possible. Together, they’ll team with Northern Alliance forces to strike a blow against a group harboring Al Qaeda terrorists.
If only it were as simple as it sounds.
Mitch’s team must unite bickering troops who’d rather fight for bragging rights than squash their shared enemy. They’re outgunned and outmanned by a preposterous amount. And to navigate Afghanistan’s inhospitable terrain they’ll have to maneuver on horses to complete the mission.
Only some Special Forces agents have little or no experience atop a horse.
Movies like “12 Strong” are minor miracles in modern Hollywood. The film’s patriotism jumps off the screen without any clunky speeches meant to fire up audiences. The U.S. forces are the good guys, and the screenplay doesn’t squeeze in any modern references or attacks on President George W. Bush.
This is about the heroes, plain and simple.
Hemsworth’s American accent remains a work in progress. Still, few modern stars can carry an action epic as he can. Shannon, in turn, softens his quirky screen presence just enough for mainstream audiences. The supporting players get plenty of attention, too, including standouts like Michael Pena and Geoff Stults.
The film shrewdly, and efficiently, captures the emotional wake left by their absence. The scenes are brief, with stiff-lipped wives wishing their husbands well. The moments do more than resonate. They linger as the action ramps up.
Movies like “12 Strong” are minor miracles in modern Hollywood
“12 Strong” embraces military movie cliches without apology. Our hero has a gorgeous wife and adorable daughter, and darned if he isn’t going to do everything possible to come home to them in one piece.
The bond between the warriors is unshakable, and jokes fly as often as the bullets.
“12 Strong” isn’t here to pretend the battles in Afghanistan were clear cut then … or now. The tribal frictions are constant and can’t be assuaged by a simple speech.
There’s more to the narrative than straight up heroism. Hemsworth is the courageous leader who never fired a shot. That emotional arc isn’t as satisfying as it could be. The script is by the numbers without being insulting but it can’t lap how previous war examined the human costs of war.
The film’s visual palette is exactly what you expect from a film set in Afghanistan. Still, director Nicolai Fuglsig shrewdly captures the action from a number of compelling angles. He’s not content to let the violence do all the heavy lifting.
And about that violence. It’s mostly PG:13 level mayhem even if the film has the same R rating as the gruesome “Saving Private Ryan.”
FAST FACT: “12 Strong” is based on “Horse Soldiers,” author Doug Stanton’s nonfiction book capturing how the first American boots on the ground in Afghanistan pulled off the impossible.
Hollywood isn’t keen on depicting U.S. military members in an unabashedly heroic light. The industry generally avoids mentioning the Taliban and certainly isn’t eager to show the full measure of its wicked ways. Wars fought on the Bush era are quagmires, or led by dishonest brokers who don’t have U.S.’s best interests at heart.
“12 Strong” showcases the horrors of life under Taliban rule. Bush’s soldiers are heroes, not unwitting pawns in a politician’s folly.
Above all, the film pays tribute to American heroes who deserve a no-nonsense narrative that clings close enough to the truth.
HiT or Miss: Like blistering war action without the hand wringing? Line up to see “12 Strong” right now.
FOREVER MY GIRL
You’d think a key character in “Forever My Girl” would never speak to her old beau again.
Sure, Liam Page (Alex Roe) went on to become a country music superstar. Eight years earlier, he was the jerk who left poor Josie (Jessica Rothe) at the altar.
“Forever My Girl” starts with that rom-com approved premise. What follows may be formulaic, but it doesn’t insult us with wacky meet cutes or other pitfalls of big screen romances.
It’s sweet and soulful, and that’s more than enough to recommend it in our cynical age.
Roe’s character is a bona fide country music sensation. Fame. Girls. Wealth. A coterie of hangers on ready to meet his every professional need. So why is he carrying around an old timey cell phone and looking so lost?
The death of an old friend brings Liam back to his roots, a town nestled near New Orleans but with all the small town accouterments. That means a reunion with Josie, the woman he nearly vowed to love “til death do us part.”
And boy does she have a surprise for Liam.
It’s hard to watch “Forever My Girl” and not conjure thoughts of your average Nicholas Sparks saga. “Girl” hums with a similar intensity, and that PG rating makes another unblinking connection between the two.
Those Sparks stories can veer hard into melodrama, something “Girl” mostly avoids. The romantic hurdles here are considerable, but the screenplay keeps the story grounded.
Best of all, Rothe makes her character’s transitions not just credible but heart warming. She’s as tough as any nail you’ll find, but she boasts a heart that can forgive given the right situation.
Can Liam live up to his part of the story? And what about Billy (Abby Ryder Fortson), the precocious child who changes everything for the country superstar?
Hollywood can be unreliable in the love story department. It either delivers hard-R stories meant to shock (the “Fifty Shades” trilogy) or raunchy rom-coms attempting to reinvent the genre.
“Forever My Girl” is neither. That alone is enough to recommend it. The lump in your throat at the movie’s end is an added bonus.
Hit or Miss: Is “Forever My Girl” formulaic? You bet. That won’t stop you from sniffling a time or two through this effective screen romance.