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Now On Netflix - THE 12TH MAN

the 12th man review
In WWII, a Norwegian resistance fighter makes a hazardous trek across Scandinavia with the SS in pursuit.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Harald Zwart

Starring: Thomas Gullestad, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Marie Blokhus, Mads SjΓΈgΓ₯rd Pettersen

the 12th man poster

This two hour plus man-on-a-failed-mission war movie does not mess around: first shot and we’re submerged in the Norwegian sea with fallen soldiers, bullets zipping through the water and ripping through the flames that float upon the icy surface tension courtesy of some unknown, external explosion. Talk about in medias res; even those poor lads in Saving Private Ryan gave us a moment to compose ourselves with a sober, nautical pep talk. And like Spielberg’s film, The 12th Man is also based upon a true story, which, unless you’re Quentin Tarantino, is the consensually respectful approach to a Second World War film. The abiding cultural weight of WWII, its impeachable position within our shared history and modern mythologising, demands a framework of verisimilitude (unlike, say, the Western, wherein historical backdrops are contexts for acknowledged fictions). Yet in this opening, as in Saving Private Ryan, The 12th Man (director, Harald Zwart; writer, Petter Skavlan) does not shy away from the cinematic potentials of armed conflict either, wringing it for bravura spectacle and grim tension: our hero, the eponymous twelfth soldier, hides shivering upon a snowy shore as besuited SS officers either capture or kill what’s left of the crew. Miraculously, he escapes (minus a shoe, and, yikes, a toe due to the enemies’ sharp shooting!) and enters the treacherously beautiful voids of the Norwegian landscape, in a battle against the elements and the SS to deliver vital intelligence to Sweden.


the 12th man review

A scenario which is easier typed than done, as the film demonstrates when it charts Jan Baalsrud’s (Thomas Gullestad) trek through a Norse hinterland of frozen water, sheer drops and the occasional kindness of brave partisans. And it is an incredible journey, one which stands as testament to human ability and endurance. As a reconstruction, The 12th Man must entail creative licence and dramatic focus, but even if a fraction of this film is accurate, then Baalsrud’s bravery is humbling. His foot begins to turn gangrenous, and his sodden clothes simply freeze to his skin, but, with the SS on his tail, he does not give in or even rest for the most part.


the 12th man review

Jonathan Rhys Meyers is ace (really) as high-ranking Nazi twat Kurt Stage in hot pursuit, his aquiline good looks and dead eyed shark glare epitomising the blandness of evil. His Nazis are a typical bunch of Hugo Boss wearing sadists, faceless and impersonal in contrast to the Norwegian farmers and fishermen who endeavour to help our man. Perhaps there is an essential truth in this depiction though, and that becoming part of an authoritarian ideology necessarily involves subsuming anything approaching personality. Or maybe these pricks just don’t deserve in depth characterisation, with the film rightfully reserving centre stage for its heroes, without the likes of whom the war would have been lost: the war widow, the midwife, the little kiddie who draws Baalsrud a map. Resilience is the key theme of The 12th Man, with the fortitude of Baalsrud reflected by the daring valour of everyone who courageously comes to his aid and, in doing so, resists lebensraum (especially horrific are the scenes where Baalsrud’s captured regiment are tortured for information which is stubbornly unforthcoming).


the 12th man review

Remember this time a few years ago when everyone was banging on about The Revenant? That none-more-macho tale of gruff men and rough goings on, matched by equally muscular and show-offy camera work? Well, while no one gets bummed by a bear in The 12th Man, unlike The Revenant there is a sense of genuine pain and suffering in Zwart’s film. By the end of the film, Gullestad looks awful, half buried in real snow, blood and bruises ruining his body. Baalsrud is not motivated by revenge, but by duty and a sense of honour. By turns thrilling (seriously, what other film has a death-defying race through enemy territory upon a sledge pulled by a yak using a rushing herd of elk as cover?) and utterly gruelling, The 12th Man is nothing less than inspiring.

The 12th Man is on Netflix UK now.


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