Based on a true story that’s well known in Norway but not so much elsewhere, THE 12th MAN tells the story of Jan Baalsrud, a member of the Norwegian Resistance who spent months on the run from the Nazis after his mission was compromised. Faced with freezing temperatures and brutal conditions his story is an incredible one.
One of twelve resistance members sent to smuggle munitions and supplies into occupied Norway Jan Baalsrud (Thomas Gullestad) is the only one to escape after the Germans attack and sink their boat. Forced to flee across the frigid Norwegian terrain to reach Sweden Baalsrud has to contend with not only the elements but the Germans, led by Gestapo Commander Kurt Stage (Jonathan Rhys Meyers THE TUDORS, BLACK BUTTERFLY). Stage has never had a fugitive escape him and capturing Stage becomes a personal obsession.
In his flight, Baalsrud is aided by civilians he comes into contact with. Strangers who risk not just their lives but those of their families to help him. THE 12th MAN is as much a tribute to their bravery as it is to his at times. Baalsrud himself considered them the heroes of his escape and the film reflects this.
Director Harald Zwart (THE KARATE KID) does a good job of balancing the intimate and the spectacular sequences such as the avalanche that Baalsrud was caught in. It keeps THE 12th MAN from becoming another empty action spectacle and gives us a compelling reason to care about the film’s events. This isn’t another Rambo or James Bond type of action film, it’s a much more real and human story. It also does a good job of portraying the grimmer parts of the story without becoming overly morbid.
The film does have its issues though. At two hours and ten minutes, it feels long, especially if you don’t like subtitles. I’m sure in it’s native Norway it played better. But to those for whom this story isn’t a source of national pride, it can get draggy. Also, while I don’t have anything good to say about Nazis, their portrayal here is awful. They come off as generic, comic book level villains rather than the force that came within a hair of turning all of Europe into their empire. Downplaying them actually takes away from just how incredible these events were.
THE 12th MAN is a solid tale of survival and one that should be better known outside of its home country. For those that don’t mind a long running time this will be a rewarding film. Others may want to consider using the pause button to give themselves an intermission.
IFC Midnight will release THE 12TH MAN on Friday, May 4 in New York and Los Angeles, as well as on Digital and On Demand platforms, with a national theatrical rollout to follow.