Critics Consensus

12 Strong Is a Little Flimsy

Plus, Den of Thieves and Forever My Girl don't fare any better, and three Certified Fresh awards contenders expand nationwide.

by | January 18, 2018 | Comments

This weekend at the movies, we have a tribute to the heroism of some real-life soldiers (12 Strong, starring Chris Hemsworth and Michael Shannon), one cop standing between a pack of crooks and the Federal Reserve (Den of Thieves, starring Gerard Butler and Pablo Schreiber), a country singer reconnecting with his jilted bride (Forever My Girl, co-starring Alex Roe and Jessica Rothe), love in the Italian countryside (Call Me by Your Name, starring Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet), a skating career gone brutally awry (I, Tonya, starring Margot Robbie and Sebastian Stan), and a womanizing dressmaker who’s met his match (Phantom Thread, starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps). What are the critics saying?

12 Strong (2018) 50%

Modern war movies haven’t done too terribly well at the box office during the post-9/11 era, but none of them have starred Thor, either. That all changes with 12 Strong, a Jerry Bruckheimer-produced look at the United States special ops unit who led the invasion into Afghanistan on horseback and were later honored with a monument at Ground Zero at the World Trade Center site in New York. As one might expect given its production pedigree, this isn’t the most thoughtful or reflective movie — but it also isn’t quite the jingoistic outing one might assume. The end result, according to critics, is an odd hybrid: a war drama that definitely doesn’t skimp on the action and/or flag-waving patriotism, but hints just enough at a deeper exploration of the real-life conflict at its center — and the thousands of lives affected — to leave some viewers wanting more. If it ends up being something less than the sum of its parts, they’re still solidly entertaining; in particular, reviews point to solid performances from the well-chosen ensemble, especially Hemsworth, who offers another hint of the wide-ranging potential waiting beyond his tenure in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Whether it succeeds in its mission to make audiences feel good about U.S. military involvement in the region may not be entirely clear, but if you’re among the target audience, feel free to safely saddle up for 12 Strong.

Den of Thieves (2018) 41%

Even diehard fans of the genre know better than to look for originality in an action movie released in January, so it should come as absolutely no surprise that critics approached Den of Thieves with a wary eye. Starring Gerard Butler as an LAPD officer determined to thwart a Federal Reserve heist plotted by a brilliant crew of thieves (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, O’Shea Jackson Jr., and Pablo Schreiber), this looks like just the type of shoot-’em-up thriller you might expect to find lurking at your local theater during the first few weeks of the year — and while the reviews basically back that up, they’ve also been surprisingly kind in context. It’s altogether unlikely to win any high honors (or even be remembered) come awards season, but as far as this type of thing goes, critics admit it does a decent amount with its obvious inspirations (which include Michael Mann’s classic Heat). Whether it’s worth the price of a ticket is for you to decide, but for the right audience under the right conditions, Den of Thieves appears painless enough.

Forever My Girl (2018) 25%

It’s been a little while since we had a new Nicholas Sparks movie in theaters — and unfortunately for the perennially bestselling author’s fans, that isn’t going to change anytime soon. But in the meantime, star-crossed romance enthusiasts have Forever My Girl, starring Alex Roe as a country star who’s drawn back to his hometown — and back into contact with the woman he left at the altar (Jessica Rothe) — after the death of his childhood best friend. Critics say writer-director Bethany Ashton Wolf pulls out all the Sparksian stops with this feature, but they’re nowhere near enough to keep it from suffering the same fate as many like-minded features: with a main character many pundits find off-putting and a central romance that wilts without sufficient onscreen chemistry, it’s heading into theaters with some of the weekend’s worst write-ups. Of course, if gauzily lit star-crossed lovers in a small-town setting is your thing, you’ve long since learned to shrug off a picture’s negative critical reception, so Forever My Girl‘s brutal reviews probably won’t stop you — but if you come away thinking this picture is more than a few tissues shy of a full box, don’t say we didn’t try to warn you.

Call Me by Your Name (2018) 94%

Who says January is a dumping ground for the least loved offerings in the studio vaults? We’ve got a trio of Certified Fresh releases opening wide this weekend, led by Call Me By Your Name. A critical favorite since the start of its limited run late last year, this exquisitely filmed coming-of-age romance — directed by Luca Guadagnino from a script by James Ivory — boasts some intoxicatingly lovely Italian landscapes to go with its handsome leading men (Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer), both of whom turn in outstanding performances. Name has earned nearly unanimous praise from pundits during its slow rollout over the last several weeks, and their decree couldn’t be clearer: if you’re capable of love and you care about cinema, this is one movie you don’t want to miss. Check your local listings accordingly.

I, Tonya (2018) 90%

Figure skating isn’t typically at the top of the list of sports most Americans care about, but there have definitely been exceptions — and the months leading up to the 1994 Winter Olympics, in which leading competitor Nancy Kerrigan was clubbed in the knee by associates of rival skater Tonya Harding, are definitely on that list. Harding’s story has been given the biopic treatment with I, Tonya, and it’s got a pretty impressive pedigree: Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) directed, with Wolf of Wall Street and Suicide Squad breakout star Margot Robbie playing Harding among a stellar ensemble that includes Allison Janney as her mother and Sebastian Stan as her husband Jeff Gillooly, who was ultimately sentenced to two years in prison for his role in the scheme that injured Kerrigan. Critics say that this profoundly disquieting chapter in sports history has been refashioned into a darkly amusing indictment of modern pop culture in general, anchored by some truly outstanding performances from Robbie and Janney in particular. If it isn’t quite a triple axel, this Tonya still skates to a solid — and potentially award-winning — finish.

Phantom Thread (2018) 91%

All things must eventually come to an end, and with this weekend’s Phantom Thread, we’re evidently saying goodbye to one of the best: Daniel Day-Lewis has said that his performance in Paul Thomas Anderson‘s latest film will be his last. Each of Anderson’s movies is automatically appointment viewing for cineastes, and Day-Lewis’ retirement adds an extra layer of urgency; critics, meanwhile, have come out solidly in favor of this period drama, which follows the saga of a brilliant dressmaker who falls in love with a young lady (Vicky Krieps) and finds his well-appointed bachelor lifestyle coming (ahem) apart at the seams. With their previous collaboration, 2007’s There Will Be Blood, these two set the bar impossibly high — so it’s all the more to Phantom Thread‘s credit that it’s earned a nearly identical level of critical acclaim. Time will tell where this effort fits in either man’s filmography; for now, it’s enough to know that you can safely purchase a ticket and expect an enthrallingly uncompromising cinematic experience.

What’s New on TV

Black Lightning: Season 1 (2018) 96%

Black Lightning doesn’t reinvent superhero TV, but it does give the genre a necessary jolt with real-world plots, scary new villains, and a star-making performance from Cress Williams.

American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace (2018) 89%

The Assassination of Versace starts with a bang and unfurls slowly, moving backward through an intricate (and occasionally convoluted) murder mystery anchored by a career-defining performance from Darren Criss.

Also Opening This Week In Limited Release

  • Mary and The Witch's Flower (2018) , the animated adventures of a young girl who stumbles upon a magical flower granting her special powers for a single night, is at 92 percent.
  • The Road Movie (2018) , a compilation of Russian dashboard camera footage capturing outlandish accidents, is at 88 percent.
  • Kangaroo (2018) , a documentary about the complicated — and often brutal — relationship between Australia and its signature marsupial, is at 86 percent.
  • The Final Year (2018) , a documentary offering an inside look at the Obama administration’s foreign policy team during his final year in office, is at 83 percent.
  • Small Town Crime (2018) , about an ex-cop who’s stirred back into action after he uncovers a killing and sets out to catch the guilty party, is at 80 percent.
  • Mom and Dad (2018) , starring Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair in a dark comedy imagining a global outbreak that turns parents violently against their children, is at 75 percent.
  • Beuys (2018) , a documentary about the life and work of artist Joseph Beuys, is at 71 percent.
  • Mama Africa (2018) , a look at the social and musical legacy of singer Miriam Makeba, is at 60 percent.
  • The Leisure Seeker (2018) , starring Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland as a married couple who hit the road and head down the eastern seaboard, is at 32 percent.

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