12 STRONG [R] C+
How do you create an inspiring and uplifting tale about soldiers responding to a dangerous crisis in an ongoing conflict without significant long-term successes? Especially when the conflict zone has been in play for hundreds, if not thousands of years without a meaningful win or a conclusion to armed aggression. Director Nicolai Fuglsig and screenwriters Ted Tally and Peter Craig (adapting the book “Horse Soldiers” by Doug Stanton) zero in on the initial American response in Afghanistan following the September 11thattacks, crafting a rousing counter-assault that doesn’t look beyond the moment its dramatizing. We understand that Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) and his elite unit will team up with an Afghan warlord to defeat Taliban warriors, but that such a partnership will not end the conflict in this war-ravaged region. The movie gives audiences the short-term win we desire in rugged, escapist fashion without daring us to question if that’s enough.
FOREVER MY GIRL [PG] D+
Simplicity for its own sake can lead to not just a dearth of complexity, but also a glaring lack of emotional and intellectual connection with a narrative’s characters. That’s my takeaway from “Forever My Girl,” the Nicholas Sparks-lite romantic drama from writer-director Bethany Ashton Wolf (“Little Chenier”). Country music superstar Liam Page (Alex Rose) is a paper-thin creation who wafts through this series of scripted situations intent on reclaiming the great love (Jessica Rothe) he walked away from years ago. If only the story had more fully realized the world Page left behind in the first place, then his return might have been worth more than a verse in a forgettable pop-country tune.
PHANTOM THREAD [R] A
Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) feels like an expertly conceived amalgamation of Day-Lewis roles. The dressmaker’s muse-to-be Alma (Vicky Krieps) acknowledges his refined good looks, which Day-Lewis employs in his characterizations like a hidden gem, a pocketed tool in his bag of tricks, like his quiet intensity or the well-timed explosive rage he unleashes at a moment’s notice. The only thing missing is the full-on action-oriented assault he delivered during “The Last of the Mohicans,” but we get the sense that the stakes for Woodcock could be just as deadly. Nothing matters more than executing his designs and he’s locked in a pitched battle against his headstrong lover. Going all the way back to “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” to “There Will Be Blood,” his previous outing with Paul Thomas Anderson, the three-time Oscar winner has woven himself into a stunning collection of narratives and this “Thread” is no different. The film and this final performance from one of our greats will haunt us for all time.