Friday, May 4, 2018

Movie with Abe: The 12th Man

The 12th Man
Directed by Harald Zwart
Released May 4, 2018

In war, there are fateful battles that involve enormous loss of life on multiple sides. For every mass confrontation that is well-documented, there are many more that are considerably less known. A covert mission is likely to be declassified and publicized only long after its occurrence, if at all, and remembering it requires that at least one member survived or someone within the chain of command who knew about its existence wrote it down or told another person about it. These stories are often gripping, inspiring tales of unlikely survival against the greatest odds.

Jan Baalsrud (Thomas Gullestad) is a member of a twelve-person Norwegian operation meant to sabotage the Nazis in 1943. When the mission is compromised, all eleven of his fellow operatives are captured. Baalsrud retreats into the icy waters and moves from place to place trying to stay alive as relentless Nazi commander Kurt Stage (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) refuses to believe the reports he has been given that the twelfth man succumbed to the elements as he ran from the Nazis, desperate and determined to find every last conspirator.

Films like “Saving Private Ryan” have been praised for their epic battle sequences that truly convey the senselessness of war and the way in which it engulfs those involved in an inescapable haze of blood and bullets. This film presents a different kind of fight, one that involves a single man doing whatever he can to make it to safety. His battle is not on a beach but on the snow-covered mountains of Scandinavia, as he flees on skis from an enemy plane in a daring attempt at perseverance. His survival is made all the more compelling by the horrific experiments Stage conducts on the prisoners he has to calculate whether his target could indeed still be alive.

Norwegian actor Gullestad delivers an inarguably committed performance, conveying the lengths to which Baalsrud had to go in order to get through his ordeal, burying himself under bales of hay and outlasting treacherous cold along the way. Rhys-Meyers, who plays villains well, is a fitting choice to portray the heartless Stage, whose desire to apprehend the missing saboteur stems from his eagerness to stay in the good graces of his superiors. This lengthy film, which clocks in at about two hours and ten minutes, presents this unbelievable journey of more than seventy days in a straightforward narrative fashion, occasionally accelerating to scenes of action but rightfully spending more time on the righteous people who, fully aware of the potential consequences, help Baalsrud along the way. This is, if nothing else, a compelling ode to its impressive protagonist.


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