12 Strong–The Horse Soldiers Movie

Bayard & Holmes

~ Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

Based on the best-selling book Horse Soldiers by Doug Stanton, 12 Strong is the true story of the first US Army Special Forces team to go into Afghanistan to hunt down Taliban and al-Qaeda after the 9/11 terrorist attack that brought down the Twin Towers.

 

 

In this dramatization, twelve Green Berets—Task Force Dagger—are ordered to team up with Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum of the Northern Alliance in the mountains of Afghanistan to open the way through hostile, mountainous territory to Mazur-i-Sharif.

Once the team arrives and makes contact, they find they must proceed on horseback. Oh, yeah . . . And they only have three weeks to do it. Real life team leader Captain Mitch Nelson pretty well sums it up in his famous response to an impatient senior officer awaiting a report: “I am advising a man on how to best employ light infantry and horse cavalry in the attack against Taliban T-55s [tanks], mortars, artillery, personnel carriers and machine guns — a tactic which I think became outdated with the invention of the Gatling gun.”

A Jerry Bruckheimer production, 12 Strong was filmed in New Mexico in and around Albuquerque as well as in caves south of Alamogordo and on White Sands Missile Range. Chris Hemsworth does a great job as Capt. Mitch Nelson, and he’s backed up with excellent performances from Michael Peña, Trevante Rhodes, and Navid Negahban, who play Sam Diller, Ben Milo, and General Dostum, respectively. Both the armaments and the social challenges the team met with in the course of their mission are faithfully portrayed. And speaking of those armaments . . . bring earplugs. LOTS of explosions.

12 Strong is an excellent representation of what US Army Special Forces concentrate on and do best.

As the film accurately portrays, Task Force Dagger did a great job of quickly inserting into a hostile area, meeting up with indigenous forces, and gaining their trust enough to work together to influence the strategic situation in Afghanistan. Such missions are the bread and butter of the US Army Special Forces.

We would only make one critique of the film’s portrayal of Task Force Dagger.

The movie shows these Green Berets being a bit out of their element with the primitive conditions they found in Afghanistan. In real life, US Army Special Forces are always careful to never, ever appear to be surprised by anything or challenged by any environment, whether that environment is geographic, climatic, cultural, or tactical domain. They will be careful to appear to be absolute masters of whatever domain they inhabit. In other words, they would smile and play poker with Satan and pretend to enjoy the warm weather if they found themselves on a mission in Hell.

Unlike many war movies, 12 Strong addresses the impact war has on the warriors’ families.

Families also suffer and sacrifice. According to Holmes, the hardest thing in the life of a warrior with a family is how their children pay a cost that was not of their choosing. It’s hard for them to wake up and find out that dad left at 3:00 a.m. Eventually, the kids figure out dad isn’t on a beach in Maui, and it leads to the unavoidable fact that families bleed, too, in their own way.

As usual with any movie about military success or heroism on the battlefield, some reviewers who clearly have no experience whatsoever with any battle beyond fighting with their lovers for control of the remote dismiss this movie as “flag waving.” We completely disagree. 12 Strong does a great job of recounting the true story of a handful of brave men who got shit done.

While we would love to give 12 Strong our highest rating, a .44 Magnum*, for sentimental reasons, we must give it our second highest rating, a .357 Magnum.

That’s because even though it is a solid war movie with excellent production and acting, it is not particularly life-altering. That being said, it is, indeed, a solid war movie with excellent production and acting, and, therefore, worth seeing. We recommend this movie to those who are prepared for a realistic combat movie with one caveat—don’t take the kids. This is not a movie for children.

 

 

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Bayard & Holmes Movie Ratings

  • Dud Chinese-manufactured ammo: Stay home and do housework. You’ll have more fun.

  • .22 rim fire:  Not worth the big screen, but ok to rent.

  • .380: Go to the matinee if someone else is paying.

  • .38 Special: Worth paying for the matinee yourself.

  • .357 Magnum: Okay to upgrade to prime time if you can stand the crowd.

  • .44 Magnum: Must see this. Life-altering event.

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HACKSAW RIDGE–A True Tale, Truly Told

Bayard & Holmes

~ Piper Bayard

HACKSAW RIDGE is the true story of WWII hero Pfc. Desmond Doss, the first Conscientious Objector to earn the Medal of Honor.

 

hacksaw-ridge-movie-poster-one-man-stayed-2016

 

When Doss was drafted into the US Army during WWII, he chose to serve as a combat medic rather than go to a CO work camp, and he fought for the right to do so without carrying a weapon. During the Battle of Okinawa, the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment. A bloody battle ensued, resulting in heavy casualties driving the Battalion back. Doss refused to seek cover. He carried seventy-five injured men off the fire-swept battlefield and lowered them down the ridge to friendly hands below. HACKSAW RIDGE tracks Doss’s life through his commitment as a Conscientious Objector, his fight to be allowed to serve in combat without bearing arms, and his heroic rescue of seventy-five fellow soldiers.

The production quality of HACKSAW RIDGE is excellent, with award-worthy acting and cinematography.

The talented Andrew Garfield is brilliant as Pfc. Desmond Doss, and Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, and Teresa Palmer are outstanding in their supporting roles. However, the movie is every bit as graphic, and then some, as you would expect from BRAVEHEART producer Mel Gibson. The “R” rating is well-deserved, and people under the age of 17 should not be admitted for good reason. I would also warn veterans about seeing this movie. It does not pull any punches in either the graphics or the audio, and it might be too intense for someone who has seen combat in real life.

 

Doss pulling a man from the battlefield. Image from HACKSAW RIDGE.

Doss pulling a man from the battlefield.
Image from HACKSAW RIDGE.

 

HACKSAW RIDGE does an exceptional job presenting the conflicting-but-legitimate points of view of Doss, his fellow soldiers, and his officers.

Pfc. Desmond Doss was a devout Seventh Day Adventist who refused to touch a firearm or work on Saturdays. The story ably traces how Doss’s religion and home atmosphere solidified his commitment to never touch a weapon while instilling in him a deep sense of duty to serve his country. His faith was inseparable from his character and is portrayed realistically as such in the movie. Equally realistic are the reactions of Doss’s fellow soldiers to his “red lines.” They were suspect of Doss’s religious devotion, wondering if he was actually simply a coward who would get them killed on the battlefield. Doss’s officers were concerned, as well, about sending a man into the field who refused to fight, and they wanted him out. HACKSAW RIDGE gives a balanced and respectful presentation of the competing interests and motivations at work in the situation without over-dramatizing or unrealistically vilifying any of the men involved.

Some reviews have characterized HACKSAW RIDGE as “religious pomp and pornographic violence,” or “war propaganda.”

On the contrary, Doss was a deeply religious man, and religious beliefs were the foundation of his heroism in real life. The movie simply portrays him as such. As for the accusations of “pornographic violence,” I would invite those reviewers to do a tour or two in combat and then get back to us. Regarding the label “war propaganda,” a true tale truly told is not propaganda. HACKSAW RIDGE is true to Desmond Doss’s amazing life story with little dramatic embellishment. Interviews with Doss, his captain, and with soldiers who knew him at the end of the movie confirm the events and the characters as factual.

 

Image from HACKSAW RIDGE. Waiting for Doss to finish his prayers. This was true.

Image from HACKSAW RIDGE.
Waiting for Doss to finish his prayers.
This was true.

 

In fact, the movie HACKSAW RIDGE is not big enough to portray all of Doss’s heroic deeds.

For example, the film shows cargo nets hung from the top of the ridge. What it doesn’t show is that Doss was one of the three men to carry the massive cargo nets up the ridge and mount them there under the nose of the Japanese. (See article below, History vs. Hollywood, for historical picture of Doss with the nets at the top of the ridge.) After the battle wherein Doss brought down all seventy-five casualties on his own, he continued to assist wounded soldiers and to inspire the men in the 1st Battalion to go on to win a foothold on the ridge, even after being wounded by shrapnel and sniper fire. It’s worth reading the full text of his Medal of Honor citation below.

 

Andrew Garfield as Pfc. Desmond Doss Check out those cargo nets on that 400 ft. ridge. Image from HACKSAW RIDGE.

Andrew Garfield as Pfc. Desmond Doss
Check out those cargo nets on that 400 ft. ridge.
Image from HACKSAW RIDGE.

 

In summary, this is a true story well told about a man of faith, whose faith gave him strength to rescue over seventy-five men from the battlefield during one of the bloodiest conflicts of WWII.

Those offended by displays of Christian faith or the horrors of war might find this movie is not for them. I would encourage those people to be open-minded and accepting of diversity and go anyway to learn about genuine historical events and a very real man who deserves an excellent movie. Those who are comfortable with religious conviction and who understand that war is hell will be amazed at the story of war hero Desmond Doss.

I give HACKSAW RIDGE our highest Bayard & Holmes rating, a .44 magnum, with one caveat.

Though the violence is realistic, it is extreme, just as one might expect the Battle of Okinawa to be. With excellent production and outstanding acting, it’s worth paying the prime time price for if you can stand the crowd.

 

 

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President Harry Truman awarding Medal of Honor to Conscientious Objector Desmond Doss public domain, wikimedia commons

President Harry Truman awarding Medal of Honor to
Conscientious Objector Desmond Doss
public domain, wikimedia commons

 

The text of Pfc. Desmond Doss’s Medal of Honor citation speaks for itself, telling the story of his remarkable courage under fire:

“He was a company aid man when the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment 400 feet [120 m] high. As our troops gained the summit, a heavy concentration of artillery, mortar and machinegun fire crashed into them, inflicting approximately 75 casualties and driving the others back. Pfc. Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying all 75 casualties one-by-one to the edge of the escarpment and there lowering them on a rope-supported litter down the face of a cliff to friendly hands. On May 2, he exposed himself to heavy rifle and mortar fire in rescuing a wounded man 200 yards [180 m] forward of the lines on the same escarpment; and 2 days later he treated 4 men who had been cut down while assaulting a strongly defended cave, advancing through a shower of grenades to within 8 yards [7.3 m] of enemy forces in a cave’s mouth, where he dressed his comrades’ wounds before making 4 separate trips under fire to evacuate them to safety. On May 5, he unhesitatingly braved enemy shelling and small arms fire to assist an artillery officer. He applied bandages, moved his patient to a spot that offered protection from small arms fire and, while artillery and mortar shells fell close by, painstakingly administered plasma. Later that day, when an American was severely wounded by fire from a cave, Pfc. Doss crawled to him where he had fallen 25 feet [7.6 m] from the enemy position, rendered aid, and carried him 100 yards [91 m] to safety while continually exposed to enemy fire. On May 21, in a night attack on high ground near Shuri, he remained in exposed territory while the rest of his company took cover, fearlessly risking the chance that he would be mistaken for an infiltrating Japanese and giving aid to the injured until he was himself seriously wounded in the legs by the explosion of a grenade. Rather than call another aid man from cover, he cared for his own injuries and waited 5 hours before litter bearers reached him and started carrying him to cover. The trio was caught in an enemy tank attack and Pfc. Doss, seeing a more critically wounded man nearby, crawled off the litter; and directed the bearers to give their first attention to the other man. Awaiting the litter bearers’ return, he was again struck, by a sniper bullet while being carried off the field by a comrade, this time suffering a compound fracture of 1 arm. With magnificent fortitude he bound a rifle stock to his shattered arm as a splint and then crawled 300 yards [270 m] over rough terrain to the aid station. Through his outstanding bravery and unflinching determination in the face of desperately dangerous conditions Pfc. Doss saved the lives of many soldiers. His name became a symbol throughout the 77th Infantry Division for outstanding gallantry far above and beyond the call of duty.”

 

For more about Pfc. Desmond Doss and how HACKSAW RIDGE compares to Doss’s real life, see HistoryvsHollywood.com Hacksaw Ridge and Bayard & Holmes article, The Medal of Honor Recipient Who Wouldn’t Fight.

 

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Bayard & Holmes Official Photo

Piper Bayard is an author and a recovering attorney. Her writing partner, Jay Holmes, is an anonymous senior member of the intelligence community and a field veteran from the Cold War through the current Global War on Terror. Together, they are the bestselling authors of the international spy thriller, THE SPY BRIDE.

Watch for their upcoming non-fiction release, CHINA — THE PIRATE OF THE SOUTH CHINA SEA.

 

cover-3-china-the-pirate-of-the-south-china-sea

Keep in touch through updates at Bayard & Holmes Covert Briefing.

You can contact Bayard & Holmes in comments below, at their site, Bayard & Holmes, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Bayard & Holmes, or at their email, BH@BayardandHolmes.com.

 

ANTHROPOID — Espionage Legend on the Big Screen

Bayard & Holmes

~ Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

ANTHROPOID brings one of history’s legendary espionage events to the big screen – the WWII assassination of SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich by two Czech paratroopers and a few Czech resistance fighters.

 

2016 Aug Anthropoid Movie Poster

 

Heydrich, also known as the Butcher of Prague, was the architect of Hitler’s death camps and third in command after Hitler and Himmler. Jan Kubis (played by Jamie Dornan) and Jozef Gabcik (played by Cillian Murphy) trained for months in the UK and then parachuted into Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. Once in Prague, they met up with the dwindling group of Czech resistance fighters, who helped them plan and execute Operation Anthropoid. Heydrich was the highest ranking Nazi officer assassinated during WWII.

Piper Bayard:

This movie is a symphony compared to a Bourne movie rock concert.

If you’re looking for unrealistic characters who do unrealistic things to thwart unrealistic villains with unrealistic explosions and quippy dialogue, this is not the movie for you.  On the other hand, if you enjoy historically accurate war dramas about real events and real people, then you will likely find ANTHROPOID captivating and informative.

ANTHROPOID thankfully makes no effort to glamorize espionage, war, or the ordinary people made extraordinary by the demands of integrity and circumstance.

Courage falters, equipment fails, and humans make stupid mistakes, while at the same time they rise over and over again with a stubborn courage and devotion to their mission and to the Czechoslovakian people. While historical sources differ on the details, the main events surrounding the assassination are well portrayed.

 

Jamie Dornan as Jan Kubis and Cillian Murphy as Jozef Gabcik

Jamie Dornan as Jan Kubis and
Cillian Murphy as Jozef Gabcik

 

The tension and conflict are well drawn in spite of a script that is at times a bit stiff.

The stakes are clear. There is no doubt that not only are the lives of the Czech resistance fighters on the line, but also the lives of their families and the people of Czechoslovakia. The drama is not manufactured, but rather real, and raw, and tremendous in the fact that in spite of all human fears and failings, Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabcik carried on and succeeded in one of the greatest assassinations in history.

Jay Holmes:

In the way of disclosure, I must explain that I could not view Anthropoid with the objectivity that a reviewer should always employ.

Though I was not alive at the time of the operation, and I am not of Czech descent, I admire the operatives that conducted the operation, and I have always considered the Nazis to be contemptible. That combination makes it difficult for me to be completely objective in reviewing a movie like ANTHROPOID, but I am happy to share my impressions.

 

The real Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabcik Image by UK Govt., public domain

The real Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabcik
Image by UK Govt., public domain

 

Most war movies and action films that depict historic events are created with an emphasis on watchability, and the pace of events, the characters, and the dialogue sacrifice accuracy to make them more fun to watch. ANTHROPOID is not fun to watch, but it is an excellent movie all the same.

I am fairly well read on Operation Anthropoid, and I was once fortunate enough to meet a retired member of British Intelligence that had helped prepare the mission.

It is my impression that the movie ANTHROPOID succeeded in closely portraying the actions and moods of the men and women that were involved in the operation. For me, this made the movie more acceptable. It seems to me that the writer, producer, and actors were perhaps somewhat reverent in their attention to detail and accuracy. The movie may be the best memorial to Operation Anthropoid yet created. As such, I applaud it.

 

Reinhard Heydrich's car after the attack. Image in German Federal Archive, public domain

Reinhard Heydrich’s car after the attack.
Image in German Federal Archive, public domain

 

Interestingly, the process of researching and producing the movie has reawakened the Czech public’s interest in the event.

The Czech Government has now agreed to do forensic work to try to identify bodies from unmarked graves of that period and location to try to locate and rebury the Czech resistance fighters involved in Operation Anthropoid, and give them a proper military burial. I commend the Czech people for pursuing this course. The makers of Anthropoid can be proud that their movie has a tangible result beyond, and more important than, the box office.

Our Rating:

Overall the early reviews of the movie have been tepid. We will depart from the trend and give Anthropoid the Bayard and Holmes .44 magnum – our highest rating.

If the events of WWII and the moral questions surrounding those events matter to you, or if you are interested in raw espionage legend and the feats of real operatives, then you should make the short pilgrimage to see ANTHROPOID. Enjoy the symphony.

 

 

Spy Truth & Fiction — The Equalizer Gets Some Things Right

By Piper Bayard

The Equalizer is a thriller film by Antoine Fuqua in which an ex-CIA operative must defeat the Russian mob to save his friend. Denzel Washington plays Robert McCall, a widower who has left his former life of intelligence fieldwork. He keeps a simple life as a supervisor at Home Mart in Boston. Each night, his insomnia drives him to a corner diner with a classic book, where he chats with Alina (Chloë Grace Moretz), a young prostitute who is pimped out by the Russian mob. When Alina is brutally beaten and hospitalized by the Russians, McCall determines he will prevent her keepers from ever hurting her again. His decision triggers a series of events that lead to Moscow and to one of Russia’s most powerful oligarchs.

 

The Equalizer Movie Poster

The Equalizer Movie Poster

 

Though this movie is not intended to be a documentary, it gets several Truth & Fiction aspects right.

One: Robert McCall is a former CIA operative.

Intelligence operatives get to resign or retire if they want to. There is a grand myth in some spy fiction that intelligence organizations are like the mafia—that once you’re in, there’s only one way to leave, as in to die. Unlike James Bond, who will outlive all other intelligence operatives on the planet, CIA operatives, active or past, actually do eventually all die of the same causes that afflict the rest of the human population. However, the Company does not put out a hit on operatives who decides to strike out in other directions, regardless of how many secrets they may know.

Two: Robert McCall is a man who wears jeans and plain button up shirts.

While some former intelligence operatives might wear leather clothing and ride motorcycles, it is not required. In fact, most people who are confident that they can kill you with their pinkies prefer to appear as innocuous as possible. Life is just more comfortable for everyone that way.

 

Robert McCall, a.k.a. The Equalizer Image from The Equalizer

Robert McCall, a.k.a. The Equalizer
Image from The Equalizer

 

Three: Robert McCall works as a supervisor at “Home Mart.”

Except for congressmen, no one gets rich by working for the government. That includes intelligence operatives. As a result, when they leave, most of them must find other gainful employment, and that might be anything from selling used cars to teaching high school to assisting people with their lumber purchases at a home improvement store.

Four: Robert McCall does not rely entirely on firearms to kill the bad guys.

One of the best parts of this movie is the creative way McCall kills off his opponents. A large showdown takes place inside a home improvement center. While our hero unrealistically passes on the obvious opportunity to pick up a few heavy firearms from the skumbags he kills, his creativity in killing with common store items is worth the price of admission. Through the entire movie, he lays out approximately two dozen bad guys, but he only shoots one of them with a firearm.

 

Robert McCall and Alina Image from The Equalizer

Robert McCall and Alina
Image from The Equalizer

 

Five:  Robert McCall is in control.

Operatives certainly have their bad days, and sometimes they end up in situations that are beyond their control. But, as Holmes says, “If you’re in a fair fight, you’re using poor tactics.” In every situation, our hero in The Equalizer has the upper hand.

It’s worth noting that this control is actually a negative when it comes to sustaining tension. At no time is the viewer genuinely worried that McCall won’t survive an encounter in order to collect his paycheck and do another movie. However, he is so creative in how he maintains control that this doesn’t sink the film.

Six:  Robert McCall dedicates himself to his chosen mission simply because he believes it is the right thing to do.

As a general rule, American intelligence operatives are an idealistic lot who devote themselves to their professions because they want to make the world a better place for innocent people to reside. No one does it for the money.

 

Robert McCall, a.k.a. The Equalizer Image from The Equalizer

Robert McCall, a.k.a. The Equalizer
Image from The Equalizer

 

 Seven:  The evil kingpin behaves like an evil kingpin when cornered.

The Russian mobster at the top of the international crime food chain is aptly named Vladimir Pushkin. (All similarities to any living Russian oligarch are, no doubt, purely coincidental.) We see very little of Putin Pushkin, but where we do see him, he is behaving realistically, exhibiting disbelief that anyone would actually kill him, combined with the confidence that he can buy his way out of the situation.

 

Overall, The Equalizer is a thoroughly enjoyable movie that impressed me with its creativity. Denzel Washington is excellent in his role as the man people turn to when they have nowhere else to go. Chloë Grace Moretz does a great job breaking out of her Kick Ass role to show a bit more diversity. And of course, who doesn’t want to see a Russian mobster named Vladimir Pushkin get what’s coming to him? If you enjoy thrillers and justice movies, you will likely enjoy this one.

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We are pleased to announce that our first Bayard & Holmes spy thriller novella, THE SPY BRIDE, will be released in the RISKY BRIDES bestsellers’ collection on October 21 from Magnolia Press.

The Spy Bride Risky Brides Front Cover via Hightail