Whilst we all know that World War II was fought between the Axis and Allies, the majority of the Western gaze tends to linger on events surrounding Germany, Britain, Italy, France, Japan, Russia and America. However, the arena of war stretched across several continents and involved almost one hundred different countries. Today, there’s a general effort to re-assess contributions and sacrifices during the war, but it remains a potent subject in those countries affected. Especially those which were occupied. Norway is a nation which seems to be in the process of wrestling with its past. Based on a true story, The 12th Man tells a tale of resistance and courage.
Trained on Shetland, 12 Norwegian resistance fighters set sail for their homeland in a bid to sabotage German military facilities. After being compromised and betrayed, 11 of the crew are captured, tortured and executed. Only Jan Baalsrud (Thomas Gullestad) manages to escape and sets off in a desperate bid to reach neutral Sweden. With the Nazis, led by SS officer Kurt Stage (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), hot on his heels, he is helped along the way by a number of people. Jan must use all his strength and determination if he’s going to make it.
The 12th Man is an epic war drama about one man’s struggle against all the odds to survive. When not dodging Nazis, Basslsrud is fighting a continuous battle against the elements. This is no smooth ride or glossy (although it does look lovely) tub-thumping piece of patriotism. Harald Zwart’s film is a well-judged and well-paced thriller which delivers in both action and drama. There’s even room for the human angle and a meditation on collaboration. The 12th Man is easily the director’s best film and one which deserves to be seen by a wide audience.
The 12th Man is in cinemas and on digital HD from 4 January. It is released on DVD by Signature Entertainment on 7 January.