With this Friday's release of 12 Strong, which tells the declassified true story of the first American soldiers deployed to Afghanistan following the attacks of 9/11, we thought we’d examine five of the extraordinary true tales through the words of the film’s cast and crew. The film, based on Doug Stanton's book Horse Soldiers, is a riveting account of sacrifice, bravery and the coming together of two different cultures to fight a common enemy.
1. How it Happened
Producer Jerry Bruckheimer: This story was classified and we would never have known about this story had it not been for Doug Stanton [author of Horse Soldiers] digging into it after a soldier told him about a classified mission that he couldn’t talk about. What happened right after 9/11 is that President Bush went to his military and said, “We have to root out this evil and how can we do it?” And the military advisors said that it would take about six months to put a force over there and the president said that was not acceptable. So they went to George Tenet, who was the head of the CIA at the time, and he went to one of his operatives J.R. Seeger and he went in there right after 9/11 with seven guys. That was the first group to go in and a week or two after that these twelve guys went in. It just shows you what a small force can do and how good they are.
Chris Hemsworth: This script came along a few years and my first reaction was that I couldn’t believe that it was a true story. I knew about the conflict and the war [after 9/11], but not about this mission. I became engrossed and shocked and fascinated by the details, and then speaking with the real guys during the process there’s just such an honesty and an openness and lots of humility when they recount these events. They are real heroes and I felt the weight of that responsibility and it was an incredible experience and one that I will remember for a long, long time. The way they were able to adapt, involve and embed themselves in this world and work with the local people—not against them—to fight a common enemy was something that always came up in talking with the guys about their experience. And the brotherhood they formed and the relationships they still keep to this day is as strong as any family bond they ever had.
3. A Fresh Perspective
Navid Negahban: Some of the Afghans who were on the set were soldiers during the incident. They are now refugees who live in Albuquerque and they really helped us by telling us exactly how they were feeling and, for me, it was crucial to sit there and listen to them. I think this is the first film that shows what the Afghans went through and how we united with them to achieve a common goal.
4. Family Sacrifice
Producer Molly Smith: There’s so many elements to this story but what we’ve seen people respond to most is the sacrifice. There’s a line in the movie that I just love where Michael Shannon says: “How do you love your family and leave them to go to war?” I think that’s such a poetic, beautiful line because people do this every day and make sacrifices for their country. I think we really tried to capture the spirit of all branches of the military and soldiers in general by showing some of the layers and complexities of the home life and their families and then seeing the scope of what these guys went to do because they felt a sense of duty to fight for their country. This is not your typical military action flick, it’s so much more than that. It’s a story of bravery, it’s a story of camaraderie, and it’s a story of brotherhood in a very unique way.
5. From Ordinary to Extraordinary
Director Nicolai Fuglsig: This is a homage to the human spirit. Both on the Afghan and the American side, all these heroes are just ordinary people. They could be your friend or your neighbor and under extreme circumstances they all rose to be extraordinary.
Playing the 12 Strong U.S. Special Forces team are Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Michael Peña, Trevante Rhodes, Geoff Stults, Thad Luckinbill, Austin Stowell, Ben O’Toole, Austin Hébert, Kenneth Miller, Kenny Sheard and Jack Kesy. The ensemble cast also includes Navid Negahban, Elsa Pataky, William Fichtner and Rob Riggle. 12 Strong arrives in theaters this Friday.