12 Strong and The Snowman Revisited

It’s rare in this age of sequels, prequels and remakes for me to see a film and think “that was something I’ve never seen before.” But as I watched the climactic battle of the new war movie 12 Strong and the soldiers charging into battle on horseback with missiles screaming over their heads, I thought to myself, “I’ve never seen this before.”


Image: Warner Bros.

12 Strong chronicles the fall of the strategically important city of Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan, which happened in the months following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. It was the first major defeat for the Taliban and happened much sooner than expected. The end of the movie informs us that US Central Command expected it to take two years to capture Mazar-i-Sharif, but it was accomplished in three weeks and was a huge blow to the Taliban.

The movie stars Chris Hemsworth as Captain Mitch Nelson, the man chosen to lead the task force despite his lack of combat experience. Nelson is ordered to meet up with General Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Afghan warlord who will give him the lay of the land. The American military leaders are deeply distrustful of Dostum, since he has a tendency to switch sides.

The relationship between Nelson and Dostum makes up the emotional core of the movie. Dostum (who is a real person) is played by an Iranian American actor named Navid Negahban, and the chemistry between Hemsworth and Negahban is quite enjoyable to watch. Hemsworth has done a lot to distinguish himself as an actor, he’s not just a hunk. He’s charismatic and likable, and has a knack for choosing roles he’s believable in. I have yet to see Chris Hemsworth in a movie and think that he wasn’t a good fit for the part he played.

The rest of the characters aren’t as well-drawn as Nelson and Dostum. Aside from the characters played by Michael Shannon and the always-likable Michael Pena (who tends to steal every movie he’s in), most of the other 12 members of Nelson’s team don’t have much personality. Aside from Shannon and Pena’s characters, I can’t even think of any of their names. They’re a likable group of guys but they don’t have a whole lot to do.

The action scenes are where the movie really gets to shine. The movie was the directorial debut of a Danish director named Nicolai Fuglsig (no idea how to pronounce that last name), and he nails the battle scenes. They’re fast paced and intense without too much shaky camera work, so it’s easy to follow what’s happening. It takes the film well over an hour to get to the bulk of the battle sequences, but once they arrive they’re well worth the wait.

One of the things which makes the battle scenes stand out is the use of horses. The horses are supplied by General Dostum and are put to good use in the climactic battle I mentioned earlier. The combination of modern high-tech weaponry with a good-old fashioned cavalry charge is something I haven’t seen portrayed on film before, and is all the more noteworthy for having actually happened.

I don’t have too much else to say about this movie, it’s a solid war film based on an inspiring true story, and if that appeals to you then by all means check it out. January has a reputation as Hollywood’s dumping ground for bad movies, but I’ve seen two January movies this year and enjoyed both of them, so maybe that’s going to turn around.

But now I have more to say about an old nemesis: The Snowman. The Snowman was widely and justly regarded as one of the worst films of 2017. It was so bad and so confusing that I decided to read the Jo Nesbo book it was based on, since the film’s plot made no sense and I wanted to see if the book cleared things up at all.

Long story short: it did.

The book’s plot is complex but logical. The character’s motivations are clear and understandable and every plot point is there for a reason. As with any good mystery, all the puzzle pieces fit together by the end. Even the killer’s motivations are understandable. I’m not saying that makes the horrible things he does okay, but the reader can follow his twisted logic.

The differences between the book’s story and the movie’s story are legion (although the identity of the killer remains the same), so it would be silly to try to list them all. It will come as no surprise that the movie’s plot is a mere shadow of the book’s plot. It’s like they weren’t even trying. The movie utterly fails to capture the spirit of the book. It’s only by reading the book that I appreciate even more fully just how bad the movie really is.

Harry Hole may have a ridiculous name (though to be fair, his last name is pronounced differently in Norwegian), but he’s a well-developed and sympathetic character. He’s tormented, sure, and he’s a recovering alcoholic, but he’s smart and resourceful. In the movie he’s a sad-sack loser who passes out drunk on park benches in the middle of winter. The movie takes a great protagonist and sucks all the personality and intelligence out of him, turning him into a bumbling jerk who’s so inept you wonder how he ever got to be a detective in the first place if he sucks so much at his job.

Why would the screenwriters do this? I have no idea. The movie’s portrayal of Harry is like airline food: it takes something good and removes all the flavor from it. One can only hope that at some point in the future, some producer or screenwriter who gives a crap will be able to give Harry the good film adaptation he deserves.

In the meantime, read the book and skip the movie. Most importantly, don’t judge the book based on the movie, they have almost nothing in common. Seriously, don’t assume the book is bad just because the movie is bad. The book is a hundred million times better than the piss-poor film adaptation. Just forget the stupid movie even exists. Jo Nesbo is very talented writer and I plan to read more of his books when I have the time.

That’s all for now. See you next week.

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