Saturday 7 November 2020

Movie Review: The 12th Man (2017)

A World War Two survival story, The 12th Man celebrates a Norwegian hero's evasion of capture in a stirring but overlong adventure.

The year is 1943. When a sabotage mission goes wrong in Nazi-occupied Norway, Jan Baalsrud (Thomas Gullestad) is the only one of 12 commandos to evade capture. But he is alone in the frigid northern regions near Tromso, and has to swim in sub-zero arctic waters to escape. Missing one shoe, he suffers frostbite in the toes of one foot. 

Sturmbannf├╝hrer Kurt Stage (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is the highest ranking local Nazi official, and insists Baalsrud much be caught. Over many harrowing weeks, a weakened Baalsrud relies on the kindness, ingenuity and courage of Norwegians to remain hidden as he inches his way towards the safety of the Swedish border.

Based on true events recounted in the 2001 book by Tore Haug and Astrid Karlsen Scott, The 12th Man combines physically exhausting survival with the warmth of everyday Norwegians risking their lives to help a fellow countryman. Director Harald Zwart maintains hot intensity in the freezing terrain, but at 135 minutes, the film extends into unnecessarily detailed territory.

The narrative strength is drawn from Baalsrud determination to survive, his escape story spreading through the sparsely populated towns and providing Norway with a much needed local hero at a time of oppression. But several stretches of the film suffer from powerless protagonist syndrome, Baalsrud helpless and on his back as secondary characters do their best to keep him safe and hidden from Nazi search parties.

Thomas Gullestad delivers a physically demanding performance, shivering through scenes of narrow escapes from death with dollops of gangrene-inflicted gore. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is a suitably chilling antagonist as he fills the boots of the ambitious and dogged SS commander Stage.

With scenes of torture, amateur toe amputations, nightmarish hallucinations and physical damage caused by a wild avalanche ride, The 12th Man is sometimes difficult to watch. But legends are created by the brutalities of war, and by the extraordinary heroism of ordinary people.

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