Under the Radar

'The 12th Man': Norwegian Resistance Against the Nazi Invaders

Jonathan Rhys Meyers stars in the WWII thriller "The 12th Man." (Shout!/IFC Midnight)

Lost in the Greatest Generation Wins the War in Europe "Band of Brothers" narrative that Americans love so much is that fact that Europeans had to keep the Germans from winning the war for at least three years before U.S. forces showed up with the resources and manpower to turn the tide.

"The 12th Man" (out now on Blu-Ray and Digital HD) tells the story of the resistance in Norway, one of the countries that we tend to forget that the Nazis invaded. Based on a true story, the film tells the story of twelve resistance fighters who were dropped into the country's arctic territory. Eleven are captured or killed almost immediately, but Jan Baalsrud (played by Thomas Guilestad) is chased into icy water and German officers assume he's dead as well but they don't find the body. 

Baalsrud isn't dead and he turns to local farmers to help him escape over the border to (neutral) Sweden. German officer Kurt Stage (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) has an instinct that the saboteur is still alive and refuses to give up a search for Baalsrud even though his fellow Nazis have their doubts.

After a series of dubious Hollywood projects (the 2010 "Karate Kid" remake, "Pink Panther 2" with Steve Martin, "Agent Cody Banks" and "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones"), director Harald Zwart returned to Norway and made this taut and exciting thriller. The film makes this a psychological struggle between Baalsrud and Stage even though the two characters meet only briefly in the film. Of course, they almost certainly never met in real life and the actual hunt for the resistance fighter was definitely not as focused as the one in the film.

But this is a movie and a very good WWII film. The default audio on this release is the English language dub but this is most definitely worth watching in German and Norwegian with subtitles if you can put up with subtitles.

The arctic conditions portrayed in the movie are absolutely brutal (people really live up there?) and there's an especially harrowing scene when Baalsrud figures out how to stop the frostbite that's turning to gangrene. As he struggles with nature as he hides from the Nazis, the saboteur also fights his own mental conditions and hallucinations. Zwart portrays those visions in a way that makes his lead character's fear and disorientation the most compelling part of the movie.

Meyers has one of his best roles in years and his German language performance is stellar. "The 12th Man" is highly recommended for WWII movie fans.

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