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US soul searching in 12 Strong, Hostiles and The Final Year

Also films on arty pretensions, an impossible bank heist and a stereotype of a women’s tale

There’s a hint, sometimes a gush, of U.S. introspection in the three top movies this week. From the last pre-Trump year, to foreign wars 16 years earlier and homegrown affronts 120 years ago these films ponder history and manage to entertain too.

They’re joined here by three other entertainers.

12 Strong: 3 stars

Hostiles:  3

The Final Year:  4 ½

The Square:  4

Den of Thieves:  2 ½

Forever My Girl:  2

 

12 STRONG: Here’s a war movie that feels and plays like the old ones. You get big action, gun battles, bombs dropping and fiery explosions. And in between you get that camaraderie among real men out there on the fighting field. But surprise: there are modern touches too.  Who can you trust? How well do you know the enemy? Is that ally really what he purports to be?  Relevant questions because this story takes place in Afghanistan and it’s true.

 

Just a few weeks after the twin towers were brought down on 9-11, the US sent a small band of special ops soldiers to Afghanistan to hit back at Osama Bin Laden, the perpetrator, by hitting at his friends, the Taliban. The mission: join with a local warlord, one of the three in the Northern Alliance, reconnoiter, and when you find something call in the bombers. Simple enough but the young captain (Chris Hemsworth, who plays Thor in other movies) finds it is anything but. He and his men have to ride horses, like the Afghans, but eventually face tanks, suicide bombers and a rocket launcher. The warlord (Navid Negahban) thinks he’s a lightweight, certainly compared to the intense guy in the group with the fiery eyes (Michael Shannon). And worse: the warlord may not be trustworthy. He could be fighting his allies as much as his enemies. The script is full of these insecurities, a statement possibly about America’s world image right now.  The film is too long and drags in the middle but the action, ably directed by Nicolai Fuglsig from Denmark, is foremost.  (Scotiabank, Marine Gateway  and suburban theatres) 3 out of 5              

HOSTILES: American soul searching? It feels like it, although it’s not the first film on this subject-- the shameful treatment of native Indians-- and it has an odd split-personality. I’d better explain the plot first. It’s 1892. Christian Bale plays a tough cavalry officer with a lot of Indian fighting in his resume. He’s close to retirement and given one more assignment: to transport a Cheyenne chief from New Mexico, where he and his family have been in prison for seven years, to a sacred valley in Montana where he wants to be buried. He’s dying of cancer. Wes Studi plays him with his usual craggy stoicism.

To Bale he’s a savage; he scalped his best friend. But fearing a court martial and loss of his pension, he agrees to the assignment and we go on a trip with lots of lessons. There’s the injustice done to indigenous people. As one character says, “They were here first but were dispossessed.” Some are still fighting. Comanches, called “rattlesnake people,” attack a farm at the start of the film and this caravan half way along. The farm wife and a child, who survived the first attack, are on the trip too but show humanity. Bale’s character has a much tougher time changing out of his hate. It’s his conversion that’s the central focus of this film and that causes the split. You’d think with all these good intentions the film would also portray the native characters as complex people. Here they’re types. Yellow Hawk is noble; we don’t get to know much about his son Black Hawk (Adam Beach), wife, Elk Woman, or grandson, Little Bear. That might be because the source material was written 20 years ago, almost another era for this topic. (Scotiabank and suburban theatres) 3 out of 5

THE FINAL YEAR: There’s a lot to savor in this one but beware. A sadness might set in when it’s over. You’ll have been watching for an hour and a half what the American presidency used to be and then find yourself left with the reality of what it has become. The film shows the good part, up close and clearly, but periodically the other flashes in.

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