During the terminally forgettable stretches of 12 Strong, the only persistent saving grace is the ensemble, five of whom deserve individual shout-outs in the same vein as my recent Murder on the Orient Express piece:
Chris Hemsworth is quickly cementing himself as an old-school Hollywood star, one whose recognizably dashing looks and palpable charisma never really change from role to role — preventing him from being a fashionably modern chameleon — but very few complain when they’re in the onscreen presence of his masculine wiles. It’s nearly impossible to forget you’re watching Chris Hemsworth, but that doesn’t mean you mind watching him at all.
Michael Pena continues to be one of the only great parts in otherwise merely good movies, which begs the question: are these the only roles offered to him, or is he just wrongheadedly drawn to material more lackluster than his talents?
Michael Shannon is also almost always great in his movies, but any other generalization regarding them is basically impossible due to their overwhelming diversity. Which is usually a pro…but diversity of quality ain’t so impressive. I guess he might classify as a Mr. Paycheck — as in, he’ll take any roll to cash that paycheck — but it doesn’t seem like money governs his decision-making. Rather, it looks like he just revels in experimenting in all sorts of movies, as if he’s testing himself to see if there’s anything he can’t pull off. And since he rarely feels miscast, his rovings have solidified his reputation that he can really do no wrong, even if the work around him is less than stellar.
One of the most reliable bright spots in these increasingly tired Middle Eastern war romps is the fact that they usually provide Muslim actors with all-too-rare sizable roles, albeit often of the stereotypical variety. Some credit belongs to Ted Tally and Peter Craig’s screenplay, but the grounded humanity of Navid Negahban — best known as Abu Nazir, the enigmatic al-Qaeda leader he played for two seasons on Homeland — transcends the limitations usually imposed on these marginalized characters. Even so, is it too much to ask to see these wonderful Muslim actors in movies having nothing to do with terrorism? Wouldn’t that be swell?
Speaking of grounded humanity, Trevante Rhodes follows up his breakthrough role in Moonlight (he played the oldest version of the main character) with more impressive work. Whereas he beautifully matched Moonlight‘s minimalism, his quietly resonant turn here stands out in a spectacle normally more focused on violent explosions than emotional explosions. Props to him for crafting a living and breathing human out of very little on the page, while still dialing up his big screen charm so that he’s noticed amongst the explosive fray. Needless to say, the man has soooooome career ahead of him…