After the success of ’13 Hours’ and ‘American Sniper’, it looks like January is becoming a hot month for patriotic war films. This week brings the declassified true story of the first soldiers to enter Afghanistan following 9/11. In addition, a heist thriller and a Nicholas Sparks knockoff romance are playing nationwide.
The widest release of the weekend is ‘12 Strong‘, which has been preceded with drastically misleading trailers and ads. At the forefront of the marketing campaign is the fact that U.S. troops rode horses around Afghanistan. In reality, that’s not what made their mission noteworthy. Yes, they rode horses – but what they did is far more enticing and patriotic than the horseback traveling and fighting they were forced to do. One month after the attack on the World Trade Center towers, a dozen soldiers were sent into the heart of enemy territory on a mission that seemed nearly unachievable. Dropped across the border with limited resources, their job was to sway the leader of an anti-Taliban resistance group to aid America in identifying terror cells. While the action is obviously embellished for Hollywood, the story it highlights is true and is bound to make you proud of those who volunteer in any similar capacity. Chris Hemsworth is good enough for the leading role and Michael Shannon is under-utilized, but ’12 Strong’ is far from being the type of bad movie we usually get in January.
The second-widest release of the weekend is more along the lines of what you’d expect for this month, but better than most. When ‘Den of Thieves‘ works, it works really well. Unfortunately, you have to get through the excessive first half of the 140-minute heist movie to get there. The ensemble picture follows two groups of thugs: a rough team from the Los Angeles County sheriff’s department and a gang of bank robbers who aren’t afraid to put down a couple cops to make off with the cash. The script attempts to build up Gerard Butler’s character, which backfires since he’s an utter a-hole. All of the other characters are placeholders and cannon-fodder. When we finally get to the heist, the movie picks up with tension and some hairy gunplay. The “surprise” ending will leave you calling it a hack version of a very famous film, but you’ll at least be entertained by the last hour. Butler is better than usual. Musician-turned-actor 50 Cent isn’t bad. Pablo Schreiber is okay. But O’Shea Jackson, Jr. (‘Straight Outta Compton’) is the one I want to see in more movies.
This brings us to an awful-looking romance movie for ‘tweens. Just when you thought Nicholas Sparks was a thing of the past, ‘Forever My Girl‘ comes along as a copycat. The melodrama tells the story of guy who gave up his fiancée for the fame that can only come with Country music stardom in the South. When he returns home eight years later, he finds that his ex has been raising a daughter he never knew he had, placing him in a “Should I stay, or should I go?” position. Over fame/fortune and family, I wonder which one he’ll pick.
Meanwhile, ‘I, Tonya‘ expands to nearly 800 locations. Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Phantom Thread‘ arrives at almost 900. Both ‘Call Me by Your Name‘ and ‘Hostiles‘ get pushed out to an unlisted number of screens. (For now, ‘Hostiles’ is listed as bumping up to 3,000 locations next week, but that’s presumably contingent on how well it plays this weekend.)