Dir.: Harald Zwart; Cast: Thomas Gullestad, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Marie Blockhus, Mads Sjograd Pettersen; Norway 2017, 135 min.
Dutch director Harald Zwart, best known for Agent Cody Banks and The Karate Kid, surprises us with a gritty WWII feature that lionises intrepid Norwegian resistance fighter Jan Baalsrud, who escaped the Nazis in his home country after an ordeal lasting months. Already filmed in 1957 as Nine Lives, Zwart shows how the solidarity of the Norwegian people was key in helping their courageous countryman to survive, against the odds.
Baalsrud (Gullestad) is part of a twelve man commando sent from Great Britain to Norway, to sabotage the airfields of the Nazi occupants. But the Norwegians are caught before having time to use their explosives, and all but Baalsrud are captured, tortured and shot. Even though Baalsrud has been shot in the foot, he escapes into the treacherous mountain landscape where two brothers in the small town of Manndalen (Troms County) come to his aide, SS Officer Kurt Stage (Meyers) is in hot pursuit. Meyers prides himself in having caught every resistance fighter in his region, but he becomes so obsessed with Baalsrud that his Ego cannot countenance a defeat. After hiding under rocks and in a hut in the mountains, starving and fighting gangrene, Baalsrud finally makes his intrepid way to Sweden.
Very much in the vain of Fred Zinnemann’s The Seventh Cross (1944), based on a novel by Anna Seghers recounting the fate of seven KZ inmates who flee the camp, The 12th Man is all about making the right choices: The men and women of Manndalen risked their lives to help Baalsrud so that he could become a symbol for their resistance against the Nazis. In real life, Stage was executed in 1947, whilst Baalsrud, who died in 1988, is buried next to Aslak Fossvool in Manndalen, played in the film by T.P. Munch, who fed him in his rocky hide-out but died of diphtheria four weeks after Baalsrud’s escape.
Zwart pulls out all the stops in an action drama that really maxes out the Germans’ brutality against their courageous counterparts. DoP Geir Hartly Andreassen triumphs both in close-up and in the spectacular panoramas of the towering mountains, the final escape is a well-choreographed masterpiece. Whilst relying on action and adventure elements, The 12th Man always keeps us questioning which side we would have chosen. AS
The 12th Man in select Cinemas & Digital HD 4th January and on DVD 7th January