×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The 12th Man’

A stirring retelling of Resistance hero Jan Baalsrud's epic cross-country flight in Nazi-occupied Norway.

Director:
Harald Zwart
With:
Thomas Gullestad, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Mads Sjogard Pettersen, Marie Blokhus, Martin Kiefer, Torgny Aanderaa, Vegar Hoel, Hakon Thorstensen Nielsen, Eirik Risholm Velle, Daniel Frikstad, Alexander Zwart, Eric Dirnes. (Norwegian, German, English dialogue)
Release Date:
May 4, 2018

2 hours 10 minutes

Harrowing physical adventure “The 12th Man” retells the story of Jan Baalsrud, the sole survivor of a thwarted Allied sabotage mission against the Nazis in occupied Norway. Wounded, hunted, often near-death, his long but ultimately successful escape to Sweden was already dramatized onscreen in 1957’s “Ni Liv” aka “Nine Lives,” an Oscar nominee considered one of the greatest Norwegian features ever made. (More recently it was also the subject of documentary miniseries “In the Footsteps of Jan Baalsrud.”)

One might not automatically set expectations quite so high for a new version directed by Harald Zwart, who’s scored some major hits both at home (comedy “Long Flat Balls” and its sequel) and internationally (the “Karate Kid” remake) as well as some thoroughly mainstream duds (“Pink Panther 2,” “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones”). But “12th Man” easily reps a personal best for the helmer, and is a stirring adventure by any standard. It opens in New York and Los Angeles this Friday via IFC Midnight — a bit curiously, as this isn’t that distributor’s usual horror or other genre fare.

An opening title notes that “The most incredible events in this story are the ones that actually took place,” which both provides wiggle room for dramatic license and prepares one to accept a saga of arduous peril at times so extreme it might normally beggar belief. Baalsrud was a much-traveled cartographer who fled his native Norway after fighting during the initial German invasion, eventually landing in Britain to train with a squad of fellow expats. In early 1943 a dozen of them took a boat heavily loaded with explosives back to their homeland, intending to blow up Nazi airfields. Discovered before reaching their destination, they had to destroy their vessel and cargo and were fired upon by the enemy as they swam ashore in freezing waters.

Only Baalsrud (played here by Thomas Gullestad) managed to escape capture, despite having been shot in the foot and losing a boot. His flight to safety remains almost beyond the limits of human endurance: He somehow not only successfully eluded an extensive Nazi manhunt, he spent more than two months in an arctic winter landscape traveling on foot, by boat, skis and sled, though blizzards and other harsh conditions — dealing with gangrene and near-starvation en route.

Those among his comrades who weren’t tortured to death were executed by firing squad. Baalsrud’s lone endurance made him a popular hero of Norwegian resistance even as his ordeal was ongoing. Thus he finds rural residents ready to help him when he stumbles into their isolated farmhouses — though such acts could get them killed by the occupiers.

While much of “The 12th Man” is naturally dominated by our protagonist’s solo battle for survival — which included long forced stints hiding under a mountain rock and in a cave — the film’s emotional core is provided by his interactions with civilians who recurrently save his life. These samaritans’ resourcefulness, bravery and self-sacrifice is quietly moving, as shown by two key characters played by Mads Sjogard Pettersen and Marie Blokhus. It’s typical of the judicious script by “Kon-Tiki” scribe Petter Skavlan (billed here for unknown reasons as Alex Boe) that their patriotism is seldom verbalized; it’s taken for granted that these people will do the right thing, no matter the risk.

There are very few false steps in this long but taut account, though Zwart doesn’t quite pull off some moments of delusion and/or nightmare that feel unnecessary. An 11th-hour crisis involving a reindeer-pulled sled feels a bit over-the-top, whether it’s actually based on fact or not. But otherwise “12th Man” wisely hews to an understatement that appreciates the tale’s considerable scope without caving in to the kind of melodramatic tone that might’ve rendered its epic pileup of emergencies implausible or excessive. Likewise, Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ German-speaking turn as Col. Kurt Stage, the Gestapo officer obsessed with tracking Baalsrud down, provides a villain whose rage simmers under a rigid surface rather than bursting into stereotypical tantrums.

Gullestad, who reportedly lost more than 30 pounds within eight weeks to convey his character’s hardships, runs a thespian gamut of physical and psychological extremity with nuanced skill. It’s all the more impressive a turn given that this is his first major acting role; until now he’s been primarily a Norwegian TV personality and member of pop hip-hop group Klovner i Kamp.

“The 12th Man” is also first rate in technical and design aspects, with frequently spectacular widescreen location photography by Geir Hartly Andreassen (also DP on “Kon-Tiki,” as well as several of Zwart’s prior features) and a fine score by Christophe Beck.

Film Review: 'The 12th Man'

Reviewed online, San Francisco, May 1, 2018. Running time: 130 MIN. (Original title: “Den 12. Mann.”)

Production: (Norway) An IFC Midnight release (U.S.) of a Nordisk Film and Zwart Arbeid presentation. Producers: Aage Aaberge, Veslemoy Ruud Zwart, Espen Horn, Harald Zwart. Executive producers: Henrik Zein, Lone Korslund, Kjetil Jensberg, Petter Skavlan, Jonathan Rhys Meyers.

Crew: Director: Harald Zwart. Screenplay: Alex Boe, based the book “Jan Baalsrud og de som reddet ham” by Tore Haug and Astrid Karlsen Scott. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Geir Hartly Andreassen. Editor: Jens Christian Fodstad. Music: Christophe Beck.

With: Thomas Gullestad, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Mads Sjogard Pettersen, Marie Blokhus, Martin Kiefer, Torgny Aanderaa, Vegar Hoel, Hakon Thorstensen Nielsen, Eirik Risholm Velle, Daniel Frikstad, Alexander Zwart, Eric Dirnes. (Norwegian, German, English dialogue)

More Film

  • 'The Dirt' Review: A Mötley Crüe

    Film Review: 'The Dirt'

    A long time ago, the words sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll carried a hint of danger. The lifestyle did, too, but I’m talking about the phrase. It used to sound cool (back around the time the word “cool” sounded cool). But sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll has long since passed into the realm [...]

  • James Newton Howard Danny Elfman

    New Trend in Concert Halls: Original Music by Movie Composers — No Film Required

    Movie and TV composers are in greater demand than ever for, surprisingly, new music for the concert hall. For decades, concert commissions for film composers were few and far between. The increasing popularity of John Williams’ film music, and his visibility as conductor of the Boston Pops in the 1980s and ’90s, led to his [...]

  • Idris Elba Netflix 'Turn Up Charlie'

    Idris Elba in Talks to Join Andy Serkis in 'Mouse Guard'

    Idris Elba is in negotiations to join Andy Serkis and Thomas Brodie-Sangster in Fox’s fantasy-action movie “Mouse Guard” with “Maze Runner’s” Wes Ball directing. Fox is planning a live-action movie through performance capture technology employed in the “Planet of the Apes” films, in which Serkis starred as the ape leader Caesar. David Peterson created, wrote, [...]

  • Zac Efron Amanda Seyfried

    Zac Efron, Amanda Seyfried Join Animated Scooby-Doo Film as Fred and Daphne

    Zac Efron has signed on to voice Fred Jones while Amanda Seyfried will voice Daphne Blake in Warner Bros.’ animated Scooby-Doo feature film “Scoob.” It was revealed earlier this month that Will Forte had been set to voice Norville “Shaggy” Rogers, while Gina Rodriguez would be voicing Velma Dinkley. The mystery-solving teens and their talking [...]

  • 'Staff Only' Review: Cultures And Values

    Film Review: 'Staff Only'

    Marta (Elena Andrada) is 17, from Barcelona and alternately bored and mortified to be on a Christmas vacation to Senegal with her estranged dad, Manel (Sergi López), and annoying little brother, Bruno (Ian Samsó). For her, the freedoms of imminent adulthood, such as the occasional poolside mojito, are tantalizing close but still technically forbidden, rather [...]

  • Rocketman

    Candid 'Rocketman' Dares to Show Elton John as 'Vulnerable,' 'Damaged,' 'Ugly'

    Elton John movie “Rocketman” dares to portray the singer’s personality early in his career to have been, at times, “ugly,” Taron Egerton – who plays the pop star – told an audience at London’s Abbey Road Studios Friday, following a screening of 15 minutes of footage from the film. It is a candid portrayal, showing [...]

  • Ben Affleck

    Ben Affleck's Addiction Drama Set for Awards-Season Release

    Warner Bros. has given Ben Affleck’s untitled addiction drama an awards-season-friendly release date of Oct. 18. The film, which has been known previously as “The Has-Been” and “Torrance,” is directed by Gavin O’Connor and stars Affleck as a former basketball player struggling with addiction, which has led to him losing his wife. As part of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content