Next we see Nelson marching briskly into some Army HQ where he had previously (upon request) been assigned to staff duty following several years as a combat trainer, although never having seen active duty himself nor fired a shot in anger. He volunteers to lead Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) 595 into Afghanistan to do battle with the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, but his commanding officer Lt. Col. Max Bowers (Rob Riggle) has very different ideas for him. Frustrated, his colleague Chief Warrant Officer Hal Spencer (Michael Shannon) who is about to retire, volunteers for this additional assignment, and puts in a good word to Bowers about Nelson's leadership attributes, which has the desired effect.
Before you know it, Nelson's team is assembled and their off to Uzbekistan having farewelled their families. It is early October 2001, some four weeks following the attacks. At an Army Base Camp, Nelson and Spencer receive their orders from Special Forces Group Commander Col. John Mulholland (William Fichtner) who selects their team over five others, because Nelson saw what they were going into for what it was, was well researched, and despite not having seen active duty had a raw determination to succeed, quickly and diligently.
Those orders given to Nelson and Spencer were to locate the Northern Alliance and befriend the leader Abdul Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban) and gain his trust in waging war against The Taliban and al-Qaida and ultimately capture the strategically placed city of Mazar-i-Sharif - the fourth largest city of Afghanistan located in the country's north.
After a night time drop under cover of darkness and flying at an altitude that their transport Chinook Helicopter can barely withstand, the team of twelve men, led by Nelson, are dropped off forty miles or so south of Mazar-i-Sharif. They assemble with the local militia at a nearby village and hunker down for the remaining night. The next morning Dostum arrives on horseback, and after an exchange of pleasantries, the requisite goodwill gifts and getting-to-know-you which is a little hostile, the team of twelve are split in two, because Dostum only has six spare horses. Six, including Nelson depart for the mountains with Dostum and his men, leaving the other six, including Spencer to wait it out in the fortified village, known as 'The Alamo', pending further instructions.
Dostum and Atta Muhammad meet on the outskirts of Mazar-i-Sharif overseen by Nelson, who is fearing the worst when the two meet. But Dostum holds out his hand and congratulates his Northern Alliance ally today (for tomorrow he may feel differently). Upon arriving back at the Army Base Camp, Nelson learns that Spencer has survived meaning that all twelve men who went out, returned safe. ODA 595 return home to the US after 23 days in country.
This is a well made based on a true story recent war film that is underpinned by great cinematography, well realised action set pieces, a strong cast and a lesser known story of heroics against the odds delivered by an unproven Captain leading a small but capable band of brothers into the very first US engagement with the Taliban following the 9/11 attacks. The film however, lacks depth - it lurches from one bloody confrontation to another with aerial shots of bombs dropping on the terrain and wiping out Taliban strongholds, and how the few horseridng soldiers and local militia so successfully manage to wipe out hordes of well armed, mountain dwelling Taliban. Uncle Sam wields his can of whoop ass in the usual predictable manner against a local enemy that boasts numbers, firepower, resilience and motivation, but fear not because truth, justice and the American way will prevail. And other than Nelson, Spencer, intelligence Sergeant Sam Diller (Michael Pena) and weapons expert Ben Milo (Trevante Rhodes) we get to know very little about the eight remaining ODA 595 Team, who all survive and come back home against seemingly overwhelming odds largely unscathed, which is surprising in itself, but clearly fact! Like 'The Magnificent 12' riding in to Dodge to right the wrongs of the local cattle rustlers, this surrogate Western film deals with the action and less of the motivation, the emotion, the consequences, or what's going on around the periphery . . . but I guess that is the point here, and for that you can't fault the film.
-Steve, at Odeon Online-