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12 Strong

Twelve angry men rage against the Taliban in the remarkable true story of a covert US Special Forces mission in northern Afghanistan in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Based on Doug Stanton's non-fiction book Horse Soldiers, 12 Strong marks the feature directorial debut of Danish film-maker Nicolai Fuglsig. However, this well-calibrated if emotionally underpowered tale of heroism has the fingerprints of producer Jerry Bruckheimer (Pearl Harbor, Black Hawk Down) on every gung-ho frame. Heartrending images of a hunky American soldier, bidding farewell to a pretty wife and cherubic blonde daughter, are vaunted in stark contrast to a murderous Mullah executing one woman for defying The Prophet, who forbids "the educating of girls over the age of eight". US soldiers drag injured colleagues to safety while the Taliban turn their guns on fighters who choose to surrender. Scriptwriters Ted Tally and Peter Craig adopt a heavy-handed approach to some of their Middle East versus West imagery but once the first American bombs plummet out of the sky, the film demonstrates a modicum of rabble-rousing restraint. Chris Hemsworth trades Thor's mighty hammer for military fatigues as Captain Mitch Nelson, who has resigned his commission to spend more time with wife Jean (Elsa Pataky) and daughter Maddy (Marie Wagenman). Then the family's TV screen fills with shocking images of the smouldering twin towers of the World Trade Centre. "You were on a flight to New York two months ago," Mitch reminds his wife. He petitions Lieutenant Colonel Bowers (Rob Riggle) to be reinstated so he can spearhead a retaliatory strike against Osama bin Laden's network. Mitch's right-hand man, Chief Warrant Officer Cal Spencer (Michael Shannon), implores Bowers to restore the squad. "You break this team up, you are cutting off the head of your most venomous snake!" he barks. Sergeants First Class Sam Diller (Michael Pena) and Ben Milo (Trevante Rhodes), and senior medic Bill Bennett (Kenny Sheard) volunteer to be part of the classified mission. With the blessing of Colonel Mulholland (William Fichtner), Mitch and his men are dropped 40 miles south of the Taliban stronghold of Mazar-i Sharif to rendezvous with General Abdul Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban), whose family was murdered by the Taliban, and provide air support to the fragile Northern Alliance. 12 Strong centres on the uneasy bond between Mitch and Dostum, who urges the family man to act like a warrior. Hemsworth brings tenderness as well as swagger to his role, repeatedly reminding us that he foolishly promised his wife he would return home safely. Battle sequences are staged with pyrotechnic-laden fury but solid performances aren't entirely lost in the barrage, even though characters are sketched in disappointingly broad strokes. Most of Mitch's incredibly valiant team are just whitened teeth in the melee.