Contemporary Hollywood has a poor record when it comes to making war movies. Generally, the formula consists of a tale with a deep political spin portraying our government as the enemy and vets as misfits. Misfits that couldn’t make it in the civilian sector or who become damaged as a consequence of their service. Along the way, typical Hollywood war movies make us cringe at the blatant military inaccuracies. “12 Strong” follows none of these formulas and is a must see in my book.
“12 Strong” is based on the real-world story of ODA 595 as told in Doug Stanton’s book “Horse Soldiers. A Special Forces team is dropped in remote Afghanistan. Help is over nine hours away, a couple of lifetimes in a firefight. The mission is one ideally suited for Special Forces but rarely successfully executed. Drop behind enemy lines, meet or create indigenous forces and lead them against a common enemy.
As we remember from those early years they were wildly successful. So much so, that special operations forces have been at the forefront of a decade plus of war. The films detractors belabor the movie doesn’t focus on the fact that we are still fighting terrorists. They entirely miss the point of the movie. It’s a celebration of the American fighting spirit and an intimate view of the relationships between soldiers. The critics also look at the movie through the gift of hindsight. Engaging the Taliban and Al Qeada almost 30 days after 911 was a feat and the overthrow of the same was not a given in October 2001.
The action is riveting and while it would have been nice to see some passes by an A10, B52’s dropping 2000 pounders is much more accurate. Speaking of accuracy, I enjoyed that the movie spent some time getting minute things right. Examples would be some of the early issue body armor actually had webbing sewn on vertically and not horizontally; soldiers equipped with near gigantic PEQ2 laser pointers and tan Velcro on the Special Forces specially modified sleeve pockets. Our issue uniforms of the time didn’t have sleeve pockets.
Besides the action and excitement as a veteran I most enjoyed the camaraderie and relationship shown between soldiers. I loved the utterly on point portrayal of NCO’s dark humor and good-natured ribbing of their team mates. Rarely do you see depictions of officers deeply committed to their soldiers as well as soldiers caring and sharing their expertise with their commander. One scene classically portrayed a veteran Special Forces soldier explaining that feeling on the battlefield isn’t weakness but a demonstration that one is still human during a moment of doubt by the detachment’s commander.
In my opinion “12 Strong” is the best war movie yet set in our latest conflict. You’ll leave feeling better about America’s servicemen and the movie will be a great Special Forces recruiting tool as was John Wayne’s “Green Berets”. The movie did a masterful job of portraying the unique skills, judgement and daring it takes to be a Special Forces soldier. Linking up with “friendly” forces that you aren’t sure can be friendly is in no doubt harrowing. Singing a stanza of Sadler’s Ballad of the Green Beret’s while in the belly of an MH47 inserting a team deep into Afghanistan on a perilous mission is cliché to some but to those that lived that life, cannot help but cause them to revel in times others would say were best forgotten.
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