The 12th Man
- Eddie Harrison
- 31 December 2018
Old-fashioned, ultimately rousing Norwegian wartime drama from Harald Zwart
The World War II heroics of Jan Baalsrud were previously depicted in Arne Skouen's Oscar-nominated Nine Lives back in 1957, a film Norwegians adore in much the same, sentimental way the British love The Great Escape. This new version salutes those who helped Baalsrud, while tapping into the survivalist drama of The Revenant.
Dutch director Harald Zwart's film opens in 1943 with an action scene not explained until a later flashback: a fishing vessel loaded with explosives is intercepted by a Nazi U-boat and destroyed. Of the dozen resistance agents aboard, only Baalsrud (Thomas Gullestad) escapes, but his mission has to be abandoned. Led by the ruthless Kurt Stage (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), the Gestapo torture and execute the surviving members of Baalsrud's team and scour the area, putting extreme pressure on locals to reveal where the fugitive is hiding.
The 12th Man shifts focus to balance Baalsrud's bravery with the substantial risks taken by those who helped conceal him, passing him down the line to Sweden even as frostbite cripples his movements and gangrene erodes his flesh. The title nods to its protagonist being the 12th man on the mission, but also plays on the notion of the crowd providing home advantage at a football match; it's the involvement of various parties that enables Baalsrud's escape. Zwart's film mixes alarming medical detail, lush snowy backdrops and some strong acting – with Gullestad's fragility and shocking weight-loss contrasting starkly with Rhys Meyers' brutish vigour in pursuit.
The 12th Man is shamelessly old-fashioned, but sincere in capturing quiet stoicism. The finale – involving a sledge, several snipers and an agonisingly close border – provides a rousing end to a simple but impressive drama.
Limited release from Fri 4 Jan.