Make no mistake: Despite the absence of white hats — not to mention helmets — on Mitch’s men, “12 Strong” is a Western, set in the mountains of Afghanistan. It isn’t just the horses, which are well choreographed and sometimes thrillingly shot, often from high angles. Or the bleakly beautiful terrain, which director Nicolai Fuglsig uses to great advantage, as his camera flies over exploding ordnance. Or even the fact that the Americans operate out of a base that has been nicknamed the “Alamo,” fighting against overwhelming odds (yet another trope of the cowboy movie).
But despite these and other staples of the genre, the film’s macho dialogue — inflected with an unsettling gallows humor that renders the real-world gravity of the situation unserious — makes the protagonists of “12 Strong” come across as “all hat and no cattle,” to use a common phrase for Western posers. “I wasn’t going to let you have all the fun,” says one of Mitch’s men, as he joins his commander in what only seems like — but really isn’t — a matter of life and death.