Movie Review: 12 Strong

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Capt. Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) and his team of Special Forces join the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan to take down the Taliban in 12 Strong. (Source: Joblo)

Jerry Bruckheimer productions have been a mixed bag over the years. From the good–The Rock, National Treasure, the first Pirates of the Caribbean, Remember the Titans–to the bad–Kangaroo Jack, The Lone Ranger, Pearl Harbor. With 12 Strong, the latest movie about The Horse Soldiers, it seemed nothing entirely special. Surprisingly, even for a January release, this is a solid tribute to the first responders of the 9/11 attacks.

On  September 11, 2001, everybody was watching the news when the two planes flew into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Capt. Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) is getting her daughter ready for school until it happened. He becomes the leader of the first U.S. special forces team to head into Afghanistan. Along with Cal Spencer (Michael Shannon), Sam Diller (Michael Peña), Ben Milo (Trevante Rhodes, Moonlight), Max Bowers (Rob Riggle) among others, Nelson joins forces with Gnl. Abdul Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban) of the Northern Alliance to take down the Taliban and members of al-Qaeda.

Having to play these real-life soldiers sounds like a dream come true to this gifted cast. Particularly Riggle who plays Col. Max Bowers. An interesting fact: Before becoming a comedic actor, we used to be a Marine who actually served under Bowers.

“He was a very proficient leader,” he said. “He knew his stuff, and he cared about his troops, and I thought he was a real professional. So that’s all you can ask for.”

With New Mexico serving as the backdrop of Afghanistan, 12 Strong has strong production values (nothing is more awesome than seeing the soldiers fight into battle on horseback) and steady action set pieces, thanks to Nicolai Fuglsig’s direction and Rasmus Videbæk’s cinematography. Despite the limited character development, Chris Hemsworth and the team do make up for its flaws. It hardly brings anything new to the table and it might be twenty minutes too long. The results are somewhat underwhelming. Also, William Fichtner as Col. Mullholland looks so bizarre with a shaved head that it’s almost impossible not to crack up. Nevertheless, I’m glad I went to see this movie.

2.5/4

Movie Review: Loving

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Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga) embrace in Jeff Nichols’ account on Loving v. Virginia.

Midnight Special, which came out early this year, is an overlooked science-fiction gem. It might not win everybody over with its mystery, it’s nonetheless a beautiful tribute to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Believe me, it does require repeated viewing (I have yet to re-watch it). Director Jeff Nichols goes back to an important time in American history. A time where racial segregation has become more noticeable. One day, two people have to face the reality of defying the racial barrier of getting married.

Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga) are an interracial couple living in a small town in Virginia. When Mildred announces that she is pregnant, Rich decides to build a house in the middle of a wide-open field and raise a family. They get married, but since this is Virginia, the state has some strict marriage laws. They get arrested, and once they are on bail, they are forced to live in Washington, D.C. The couple does everything they could to settle this case once and for all. They are presented in front of the Supreme Court for the ruling of Loving v. Virginia of 1967.

A movie about the famous racial case would have been corny. What Jeff Nichols does with Loving is anything but. The subtle yet tender chemistry between Edgerton and Negga is one of the biggest highlights. Their expressions say so much, while keeping their dialogue short and sweet (in one particular scene, where Mildred gets off the phone hearing about some good news). This is a couple who fought for their lives while never letting go of that bond, despite their different characteristics. Adam Stone’s exquisite cinematography and the vintage soundtrack crafts a marvelous portrait of a rough time in history.

Of course, it’s not a Jeff Nichols film without Michael Shannon. In his fifth collaboration with the great filmmaker, he has a small yet wonderful role as Grey Villet, the photographer LIFE Magazine hired to take photos of the happy couple in one of the film’s many heartwarming scenes. Loving is one of the year’s best films!

4/4