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Jan Baalsrud is a remarkable but relatively little-known hero of the second world war: a Norwegian resistance commando who escaped to Britain after the Nazi invasion, trained in exile there and as part of a 12-man sabotage squad arrived back in Norway in 1943 in a phoney fishing vessel filled with explosives, on a mission to blow up a German air-control tower. He and his comrades were betrayed by a Norwegian civilian. Eleven were shot, but Baalsrud managed to get away and evade a huge Nazi manhunt: a two-month ordeal in the snowy wastes making his way to neutral Sweden, during which he suffered frostbite, gangrene and terrifying near-misses, but kept going with food and help from local sympathisers. His survival became a morale-boosting legend – “the 12th man” who defied the Nazis.
This extraordinary story has unfortunately been turned into a handsomely produced but laborious, drawn-out and dramatically inert movie from Norwegian director Harald Zwart who has given us such basic Hollywood fare as One Night At McCool’s (2001) and Agent Cody Banks (2003). He and screenwriter Petter Skavlan have difficulties making Baalsrud’s lengthy solitary existence in the freezing cold all that exciting or interesting in filmic terms. Thomas Gullestad plays Baalsrud and Jonathan Rhys Meyers is Kurt Stage, the Gestapo officer on his trail, a dead-eyed baddie with what appears to be a duelling scar, who responds to news of Baalsrud’s escape by climbing into his jeep, rattling the steering wheel in impotent rage and screaming “Scheisse!”
Sadly, there just aren’t that many moments of suspense or tension in the film, which in its final stretches has to be enlivened by Baalsrud’s flashback-dreams of what went wrong on the mission. There is quite a neat moment when Stage nearly captures Baalsrud in a hayloft but is distracted by almost losing his precious Nazi party badge – an object that, with its pin fastening, carries a special charge of horror to those who have read Günter Grass’s The Tin Drum or seen Volker Schlöndorff’s film version. As for Baalsrud, he is finally the beneficiary of a startling, reindeer-related miracle. Did that happen? Stranger things have.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: The 12th Man review – real-life derring-do minus the thrills | Film