by John

When Chris Hemsworth isn’t wielding his powerful hammer as the God of Thunder in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he is leading a team of soldiers to Afghanistan directly after the unfortunate events of 9/11 to fight the Taliban.

In his new movie 12 Strong, Hemsworth (Rush) plays Captain Nelson, a Green Beret who rode into battle against America’s enemies. Yup, you read correctly – he went to war in the most glorious way possible: on horseback.

Based on Doug Stanton's non-fiction book Horse Soldiers, the movie directed by Nicolai Fuglsig tells the story of a 12-men team who galloped alongside with Northern Alliance fighters after the September 11 terror attacks in 2001. The men’s mission was to take the strategically important city of Mazar-i-Sharif to oust the Taliban from power.

Here are six quick facts about the movie and the real-life story it is based on.

1. Task Force Dagger

Many would remember the horrible images from the 9/11 attacks, but not many are aware of the unconventional and extraordinary events involving 12 men that happened after. Task Force Dagger, including CIA paramilitary officers and US Army Green Berets Operational Detachment Alpha 595 (ODA 595) were sent to Afghanistan. Because of the advance buzz from this dramatised movie, Stanton’s book returned to the New York Times bestsellers list.

2. True Story

While the movie is marketed as “the declassified true story of the horse soldiers”, the task force’s mission in Afghanistan was actually made public on 16 November 2001 when then-secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld showed reporters a picture of a commando on a horse. He explained to the media that the man in the photograph was one of the Green Berets directing air strikes against Taliban and al-Qaeda targets.

3. Getting to Know Mark Nutsch

Hemsworth, who was crowned People magazine's 'Sexiest Man Alive' for 2014, puts on a military uniform to play a character inspired by Major Mark Nutsch (right, in the picture above), who is now a reservist in special operations. He was one of the first men to arrive in Afghanistan for the operation. In an interview, Nutsch revealed that he had never expected to ride horses into battle despite being a history buff who studied Civil War cavalry charges and tactics. In fact, this was the first time American soldiers rode to war on horseback since World War II. To lend authenticity to the movie, Nutsch was involved in the production.

4. Getting to Know General Abdul Rashid Dostum

Although this is a Hollywood production about America’s War on Terror, a noteworthy character in the movie is Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Afghan politician and general who has served as Vice President of Afghanistan since 2014. Played by Navid Negahban (American Assassin), Dostum is instrumental in working with Task Force Dagger to gain the Afghans’ trust, getting them to stop fighting each other to focus on fighting the Taliban and their Al Qaeda allies. 

5. A Respected Ensemble Cast

Besides the Australian-born Hemsworth, the movie also features Michael Shannon (Man of Steel), Michael Peña (Fury), William Fichtner (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), Rob Riggle (Absolutely Anything) as members of the 12-men team. Each of them brings a different personality to the table, providing 129 minutes of solid entertainment for viewers. It is interesting to note that Riggle is a retired United States Marine Corps Reserve officer in real life – the actor ditched his Marine outfit to play an army soldier for this movie.

6. Saddle Up

Naturally, horses are an integral part of the movie. While Hemsworth had ridden horses previously in other movies, this was a whole new experience because of the unkind terrain. Fortunately for the cast, the Special Forces men also had to retrain to fight in the rugged environment during the actual operation. This meant that the actors could do with some ‘method acting’ and display their lack of horse-riding skills.

Catch Chris Hemsworth talk about why he took on the role: