The 12th Man (2018)


Directed by Harald Zwart
Country: Norway

Films about authentic heroes with keen survival instincts and an extreme capacity for resilience usually provide solid entertainment. Danny Boyle’s "127 Hours", Baltasar Kormakur’s "The Deep", Sean Penn’s "Into the Wild", and Kevin Macdonald’s "Into The Void" are some acknowledged cases of cinematic success.

The historical war thriller "The 12th Man", written by Petter Skavlan (Kon-Tiki) and directed by Harald Zwart, was underpinned by another amazing fact-based story that, even far from the titles cited above, is worth watching.

Set in Norway, the account follows Jan Baalsrud (Thomas Gullestad), the only saboteur from a group of twelve that survived the Nazis in the winter of 1943 after their boat has sunk. Emphasizing the priceless courage of the local population, the director depicts Baalsrud as a modest hero and a noble patriot. A model of determination, this Resistance fighter, despite forced to sacrifice some gangrened toes due to the extreme cold, ultimately reaches his goal: to cross the border into neutral Sweden. Blessed by the heavens, he couldn’t have made it without the help of a few inestimable friends, including an old midwife and the Gronvolls - siblings Gudrun (Marie Blokhus) and Marius (Mads Sjogard Pettersen). Their assistance was of the most importance, so he could elude the unremitting manhunt mounted by Kurt Stage (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), an inflexible, hostile SS officer who always knew he was not chasing a ghost but a real man.


Curiously, Arne Skouen had depicted this same story in 1957 in his Oscar-nominated drama "Nine Lives". At the time, it was Jack Fjeldstad who embodied the protagonist.

Although competent in terms of storytelling, the most impressive aspect of the film was its visual impact, with some severe scenes causing discomfort. But it’s also a jolt when we think that these occurrences actually happened. The question is: with which level of accuracy? Regardless of the answer and a cliché here and there, Zwart did his job accordingly. Even perceiving how this cat-and-mouse game would end up, we have the bitter Scandinavian cold acting like an enemy as lethal as the merciless Germans.