Chris Hemsworth Takes a Break from the Comic-Book Realm in 12 Strong

Chris Hemsworth in 12 Strong

Chris Hemsworth in 12 Strong

Seventeen years after the United States first sent troops into Afghanistan as a response for the attack on the World Trade Center, there are still aspects of the war that remain a mystery to America, in part because of the classified information contained in them. 12 Strong, adapted from the book by Doug Stanton, tells the story of one of the first military missions in the country in the weeks following 9/11 before the full military could mobilize in the country. Chris Hemsworth plays the lead of a dozen-man force traveling through the Afghan mountains on horseback to root out the Taliban in association with the conflicting Afghan tribes who oppose not only the Taliban but each other.

For Hemsworth, best known as the Norse God of Thunder last seen in Thor: Ragnarok and soon to be seen in the latest Avengers film, it was a break from the fantasy world that made him a star.

“I’ve done a lot of comic book stuff set in fantasy worlds, and even though it’s a lot of fun, I desperately wanted to do something with real heart that was a little more grounded,” the actor explains. “When the script first came along a few years ago, my first instinct was that I couldn’t believe it was a true story. Like a lot of people, I knew a lot about the war but not about this particular mission. I was shocked and fascinated by the details, and when speaking with the men involved, there was a sense of openness and honesty, and a lack of dramatization or ego as they retold the events. They were real heroes who put themselves in harm’s way. We all felt a sense of responsibility playing these characters.”

The fascinating thing about 12 Strong for Hemsworth is not the action sequences that one would expect from a Jerry Bruckheimer production, but the scenes involving the Afghan locals who worked with the U.S. military forces to oppose the Taliban back in 2001. 12 Strong employed many Afghani refugees during its shoot, and Hemsworth cites their involvement as a key element in the film.

“Something that I took away from the experience was how important it was to convince the local people that they weren’t there to occupy, but to chase out the enemy. A number of the Afghans who worked with us in Albuquerque came up to thank us for telling our story. They said that they were there and fought with the Americans, but people still think they’re a terrorist, and it’s important that people know that we’re on the same side. The Taliban are the ones who were the infection.”

The production of 12 Strong was a massive undertaking that one would expect from Bruckheimer, who produced the Pirates of the Caribbean series, Armageddon and a host of large-scale blockbusters, and the film recalls what is likely his most acclaimed effort, the Oscar-winning depiction of the American mission in Somalia, Black Hawk Down. And yet despite the decades that Bruckheimer has spent crafting action movies, it is the human element that he cites as what makes his film distinct.

“What makes the movie so fascinating is that the special forces are diplomats on the ground, and the relationship that Chris has with Navid Negahban, who plays General Dostum, is really a central, driving emotional point. What the movie tries to drive home is that this is America working at its best to create social change and using combat if necessary but also the power of the mind. They’re almost like Jedi Knights here, trying to use a mind trick with the culture they’re engaging with and trying to be respectful of it.”

There is a certain jingoism in any war movie and a tendency, particularly in a big-budget production such as this, to deify the military forces who take part in it, but Bruckheimer resists any attempt to make them into heroes.

“These men don’t see themselves that way, they see themselves as doing a job. They love their country and their families, but they’re also highly trained, highly skilled professionals. They don’t see it as sacrifice, but as the job they’re trained to do,” he explains. “We’re fortunate that we could show that excellence in the movie because this was classified, and we never would have known about it if not for Doug Stanton’s book. This is just one of several small missions, and those other ones we know nothing about.”

What people do know about the mission depicted in 12 Strong from the soldiers who took part in it is that the relationships that they made with the Afghan citizens who fought alongside them against the Taliban were deep and enduring.

Chris Hemsworth explains it as such: “The way that they adapted and evolved themselves within this world and worked with the local people to fight a common enemy and the brotherhood they formed was something that kept coming up with the guys I spoke to. The relationship they keep to this day with one another is as strong as any family bond. It’s inspiring in their approach.”

12 Strong is now in theaters.

Jeremy Ross is a Staff Reporter for Living Out Loud - LA, covering entertainment.

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