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12 Strong: The Declassified True Story Of The Horse Soldiers by Lorne Balfe (Review)

posted Jan 12, 2018, 9:42 AM by Kaya Savas

The genre of “war” is always an interesting genre of filmmaking to analyze. We’ve seen a huge uptick in war films, especially American war films ever since September 11th. The one trend that is definitely noticeable is how much we focus on heroism now. I mean, all war films are about the heroes who served but recently it's been the sole focus. We don’t see movies like The Thin Red Line, Black Hawk Down or Saving Private Ryan that much anymore. With modern combat movies like American Sniper, 13 Hours and Lone Survivor we really want to know the real people who lived or died. The words “Based On A True Story” become bigger and bolder in the trailers and posters. Some people call it propaganda filmmaking that panders to middle America, some people say it glorifies war. Personally, for me, the only film that has stepped into propaganda territory recently has been American Sniper. Whether you hate them or enjoy them, I think war movies can be entertaining dramatizations and reflections of humanity. And yes, it’s weird to say “entertaining”. But I was entertained and moved by movies like Black Hawk Down, Saving Private Ryan and even Lone Survivor and 13 Hours recently. As long as you remember the movie is not meant to be a documentary and there are filmmakers adding their personal touches to tell you a story, it’s okay to let these movies draw you in and see them as action filmmaking

12 Strong: The Declassified True Story Of The Horse Soldiers is a new war film from producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Nicolai Fuglsig who has only directed one feature prior to this. Lorne Balfe is behind the wonderfully balanced yet extremely propulsive action score. Balfe and Bruckheimer developed a good relationship on Geostorm and here Lorne gets to write some extremely effective music that draws you in from start to finish.

I think comparing 12 Strong to Black Hawk Down is a very fair way to get an understanding of the approach here. Both are intense examinations of an event in American military history that aim to show the heroics of the soldiers involved. And both want to create a gritty and intense action experience to make the viewers feel immersed in the intensity. Also, the scoring approach is similar in tone, but vastly different in style. Lorne’s approach here is keeping the score very modern and keeping the point of view from our central characters. The music hardly incorporates traditional Afghan sounds or anything resembling “Middle Eastern music”, just a few light touches here and there.

The score of course is mostly action, but you have that delicate heart to the score that echoes the families that the soldiers are leaving behind and fighting for. All of these are familiar themes in every war film. The men all have wives and children, and that’s the drive for them as soldiers. The way Lorne handles that emotion is he never lays it on too thick to let it ever become melodramatic or schmaltzy. However, once we are in the thick of battle the score does not hold back. The majority is extremely intense and we have nice long tracks that allow you to feel the score at work. Lorne showcases some amazing action builds here that have wonderful payoffs. The way the music propels everything forward is extremely impressive, and we honestly don’t get to hear melodic action scoring like this that much these days. The percussion in the score is very impressive too, and it becomes an integral part of the narrative structure. Some people may criticize the final act of being “too heroic”, but it really feels as genuine as you can make it. You never feel like the score is spoon-feeding you patriotism, and that’s why it works.

12 Strong is a highly effective action/war score that does an incredible job of creating intense action and bold heroism without making you feel like you need to get the American flag branded on your chest. It’s extremely difficult to create a war score that is bold, melodic and boasts heroism without it being labeled as manipulative. I think Black Hawk Down was the last score to successfully be not only an effective war score, but also an entertaining action narrative. 12 Strong succeeds in the same fashion by being a bold action narrative, but also an effective combat score. The emotions pumping through the music never feel forced either, even during the few intimate moments. In the end this is a Bruckheimer produced war movie, and people who grew up with Bruckheimer action movies in the 90's will feel that influence here. Also, detailed listeners will find some stylistic similarities between this and Lorne's score to Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, and it's great to see his bold voice as a composer shine through. 12 Strong manages to bring gravitas and intensity without feeling like Uncle Sam is placing an American flag in your hand. This is such a fine-tuned action narrative that has many memorable moments.