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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that 12 Strong may star Marvel hero Chris "Thor" Hemsworth, but it's not appropriate for the Avengers' younger fans. This is a violent war movie about U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan right after the 9/11 attacks. Expect some disturbing scenes -- such as the execution of a helpless woman who's been severely beaten -- as well as dismembered body parts and gore. There's also brief drinking and smoking, frequent strong language ("f--k," "s--t," and more), and a couple of sexual references. But it also offers themes of communication, compassion, and teamwork and looks beyond surface patriotism to the complexities of war, such as the emotional cost of taking a life.
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What's the story?
In 12 STRONG, a Special Forces unit of 12 Americans (including soldiers played by Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Michael Peña, and Travante Rhodes of Moonlight) is sent to Afghanistan shortly after 9/11 to assist a Northern Alliance general (Naveed Negahban). The team's overarching objective is to help take a Taliban stronghold city. To do so, they must overcome initial distrust between them and the general and navigate difficult country in which horses are the most practical form of travel. The unit's adventure is based on the now-declassified true story of the "horse soldiers" who represented America's first military response to the 9/11 attacks.
Is it any good?
This is a solid war movie that manages to be patriotic while at least scratching the surface of the complexities of American involvement in Afghanistan. The filmmakers behind 12 Strong make a good effort to establish what these soldiers have at stake at home, but the movie's focus is on the action and their experience in country, rather than on characterization. Luckily, the movie has a fine cast, led by Hemsworth and the always-excellent Shannon and Peña; they do enough to make us buy who they are. And Rhodes has a touching side story with an Afghan boy. The action is well-staged, and the story moves along at a good clip. We're always generally aware of the objectives and the dangers.
It can be unsettling to watch stories "based on" real events, especially those involving war. In virtually any big-screen adaptation, events and characters must be compressed. But in war movies, people's lives and deaths are at issue. And in a story spurred by the 9/11 attacks, there's a particular danger of extreme patriotism and the devaluing of human life. Fortunately, 12 Strong avoids much of that peril by staying tightly focused on the unit's mission. It avoids painting the Americans as too saintly -- though you do have to wonder how the Afghans might feel about being painted as secondary in the battles, especially in the climactic one. And it avoids taking a condescending view of the Afghan people, while simultaneously depicting some of the horrors of the Taliban regime. The movie also hints at the likely overall futility of extended U.S. involvement, as when one Afghan essentially says, "You're our allies today; you're our enemies tomorrow." The incredible feat these particular soldiers helped accomplish is a tale that should be told, even if the movie version is more competent than truly absorbing. Still, the story is intriguing (modern American soldiers ride into battle on horseback against machine guns and rocket launchers), and the performances are strong. Just don't expect it to make a deeply lasting impression.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the messages that war movies like 12 Strong send. Is this a patriotic film? Does it make war seem "cool"? Does it make it clear that human beings die -- and kill -- in war?
How accurate do you think this fact-based movie is? How could you find out more? Would it bother you if important details were changed or left out? Why do you think filmmakers might sometimes choose to tweak the facts?
- In theaters: January 19, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: May 1, 2018
- Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Michael Pena
- Director: Nicolai Fuglsig
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Character strengths: Communication, Compassion, Teamwork
- Run time: 130 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: war violence and language throughout
- Last updated: April 24, 2020
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