There is a simple formula that most comedians use to gauge whether or not something can be talked about in a humorous light.
Tragedy plus time equals comedy.
That was all I could think about during my screening of 12 Strong. Well, that and the fact that it looks like it physically pains Michael Shannon to smile.
Everybody remembers where they were the morning of September 11th, 2001. I’d played hooky from school — I was in my sophomore year of high school — and woke up to the answering machine in the other room. My mother was leaving a message about a plane and a building. My father was still working in downtown Chicago then, so I leapt out of bed to grab the phone but missed her call.
My sister happened to be home that day as well, and naturally, we started bickering about the other being home when they should have been at school.
I phoned back to my mom to rat out my bratty sister and she answered the call, “Turn on the television.” I tried to carry on about the cage match that was going down in our living room and she only repeated herself.
The sibling rivalry waned when we watched, live on television, the second plane hit the other tower.
12 Strong follows the twelve men who were deployed to Afghanistan after those attacks on what seemed an impossible mission. Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) who led his team into a hellscape to go head-to-head with the Taliban and its al-Qaida allies.
The film is based on Doug Stanton’s telling of the tale, Horse Soldiers. Nelson along with Chief Warrant Officer Cal Spencer, Sergeant First Class Sam Diller, Sergeant First Class Ben Milo (Michael Shannon, Michael Pena, and Trevante Rhodes, respectively) and eight other men would meet General Abdul Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban) of the Northern Alliance.
Unsure of whom to trust and with the well-being of his country, his team, and his family as his primary concerns, Nelson had to make unthinkable decisions. Their battles were fought on horseback, incredibly enough. Odd and a bit off-putting to see big heavy guns toted on the backs of such beautiful creatures.
I have a hard time with 9/11 because my opinions on that day tend to spark argumentative discussion. I don’t do well with war movies either, because all we’re seeing is a retelling of events that took place. I always wonder how much of the heroics are italicized for the sake of Hollywood pandering.
Either way, 12 Strong pulls off the ol’ razzle dazzle as well as it can while telling a story that drudges up frightening memories. I feel that it steps outside of the box and has a lighter feel than the typical war film fare. Granted, it’s got Chris Hemsworth and Michael Pena — two very familiar faces — as its safety net should things go wrong.
The reason I brought up tragedy plus time equals comedy is because 12 Strong delivered a few well-timed laughs. Imagine my surprise when, in the face of bombing the Taliban, we get a quick chuckle.
Everyone remembers that day in their own way. 12 Strong tells the story of how twelve brave men rode into combat for the welfare of our country. If you’re in the market for a major testosterone boost, a heartwarming tale of kinship across enemy lines, and very minor but brave female characters, check it out!