In the aftermath of 9/11, the United States sent a Spec Ops team into Afghanistan to assist with the country’s resistance to the Taliban. In 2012, Alex Quade made a short documentary about it called Horse Soldiers of 9/11 — so named because the operation marked the first time in decades that U.S. soldiers rode horses into battle(!) In 2017, Greg Barker made a longer documentary about it called Legion of Brothers — so named because of the camaraderie that held among the team even as everything else fell apart. Those were movies about war. 12 Strong is a war movie, complete with men promising their women that they’ll come home, leaders insisting they won’t lose a single man, a bad guy executing schoolgirls (as if that has anything to do with the mission against him), oracular pronouncements from the wise native (“Your mission will fail because you fear death,” “I don’t have soldiers, only warriors,” etc.), and oh yes, Chris Hemsworth picking off enemies with an assault rifle from atop a charging horse at full gallop. But even if all that sounds grand, the film fails in other, more intrinsic ways: combat scenes seem more interested in the faces than the fracas, missions are undertaken with no apparent outcome, and great difficulties loom and then dissolve like mist. Still: it was a helluva mission, there are at least nods in the direction of complexity, and the bomb strikes convey something of what must have been meant by “shock and awe.” Directed by Nicolai Fuglsig. (2018) — Matthew Lickona
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