12 Strong – A Patriotic Song

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9/11 is one of many key events that have altered the perceptions of Islam. Arguably Islam has always been made to appear as the Other in this Christian leaning West. Despite our livelihoods mostly revolving around secular means, the slot for our perceptions of God, morality, institutions of religiousness revolves around this concept. Hence, we are somewhat soul tied to these notions, anything different can be presented as unsettling. 12 Strong is a film based on Doug Stanton’s non-fiction book Horse Soldiers. In brief, the book covers the first movements into Afghanistan by CIA Paramilitary and U.S. Special Forces. The film is directed by Nicolai Fuglsig, written by Ted Tally and Peter Craig. A key producer Jerry Bruckheimer managed to bring together a star-filled cast. In terms of it being pieced together as a production, it seems everyone involved wanted to reap the patriotic benefits of a War tale film. With a few relevant stars such as Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Michael Pena and Trevante Rhodes it makes the film attractive with some honestly good acting. War has always been a fantastic cultural product for America though it still begets the question – why does the World need another 9/11 story? What relevance does a story like this bring?

One of the best scenes of the film, the initial meeting between Nelson’s men and Dostum’s forces

As a film, 12 Strong is overflowing with propaganda. It supposedly tells the declassified version of events of a group of American Soldiers and CIA personnel who attempt to take the fight immediately to the Taliban. The beginning of the film starts with the incensed Americans showing their frustrations. It builds a sympathy which is all too familiar. Attacks or immoral scenarios within the West host a seriousness the Other or rather rest of the World cannot amount. Our mark of modernity still leans toward Western ‘’Civilisation’’ hence the fear compounded by the sequence of terrorist events have been unsettling even for the most reasonable people. Some people cannot grasp and contrast the different levels of care and response to such tragic events Worldwide. Chris Hemsworth stars as Mitch Nelson, the leader of this team of 12 who has no combat experience. Though as an individual his smarts regarding Warfare and his background in horse handling makes him a perfect candidate to work with Abdul Rashid Dostum, an alliance Leader and now the Vice President of Afghanistan. Dostum was played by Navid Negahban, an actor famed for many appearances in films and TV shows based on Middle Eastern conflicts. I wonder how commendable that is, essentially profiting in roles where real scenarios are going on. Though in a short interview with the Washington Post Navid referred to his opportunities: “The projects are getting better. It’s not the stereotypical characters anymore. It’s okay to go to the other side now.”. I recognise him as Abu Nazir from Homeland, though he has starred in 24, Lost, The West Wing and other interesting productions. I wonder what good it does, easing the identities of the Other into such shows without tackling the greater issue at hand, the contentions of American people and their perceptions of Islam.

Facing the Taliban up close

The film is complicated as it attempts to unravel the contentiousness of a War setting. It becomes messy as the plot extends over relationships, the chemistry between Dostum’s alliance and Nelson’s team, the evilness exerted by the Taliban as well as the pressure from American authority on the striving forces. The propaganda is gripping insofar as people extend their own insecurities in understanding Middle Eastern identities by stereotypes. They amount Afghan forces as being well versed in Warfare, which in this scenario is correct, though it extends an American lens on people. Due to their constant endeavour for states of War I feel Americans are intertwined with War, they’re somewhat high off patriotism. The film attempts to scratch at representation, including the likes of Michael Pena and Trevante Rhodes. Of course, this is a film, though the ending does show a true picture of the 12 which were all white American Soldiers. As each of the Soldiers go through the emotions of leaving home not knowing when they’ll return the focus seems to be on survival. The film intends to cover the livelihoods seeped into this situation through tragedy. It reminds me of Three Kings (1999) in parts, the comedic endeavours to ease over the otherwise terrifying situation. It implies in that setting you must be at ease to get over the anxieties of War. In that sense I also thought it took notice of other War films, maybe Saving Private Ryan (1998), attempting to build a strong cast when the action and drive of the mission went missing.

The film was actually shot in the mountains of Mexico. The cinematography is believable and captured greatly in parts

There are a few well-worked action scenes that do place you right in the middle of the horrific action. The proximity of the fighters and danger close situations of American bombs somewhat shows another angle of the fight with the Taliban we haven’t seen before. The poster shows Chris Hemsworth on top a horse, riding through War with a machine gun like a hero. Unsure how true that is of the Character he is based on, but – America, fuck yeah right? It is a romanisation of War as it always would be, playing on trust but the good sheer American luck allows them to pull through the most dumbfounding situations. The narrative is set up in a way we witness Americans as the heroes as usual. It dances around the actual idea of pinpointing the Taliban and the cause of it. As a result, the enemy ends up being your usual bad guys, who have no voices, just a fetish for evilness. That is not to imply there is a greater reason behind the Taliban’s endeavours however it undermines the weight and entirety of War in the Middle East. There also are hardly any women in this film, the most notable is used in a sacrificial light. She was quite beautiful too, stunning visually, youthful and vibrant in contrast to the totality of Hell that surrounded her. There is an eagerness from American writers and directors to paint the treatment of women in the Middle East so passively as if abuse is a norm the American heroes will unravel. Using the female body to realise greater and somewhat sadistic reactions by men is an issue we should address. It offers an excuse for violence and implies they are righteous in action.

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