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World War II-set Norwegian thriller 'The 12th Man' has the right stuff

World War II-set Norwegian thriller 'The 12th Man' has the right stuff
Thomas Gullestad in the movie "The 12th Man." (IFC Midnight)

Norwegian director Harald Zwart has been a reliable Hollywood hand for nearly two decades, helming undistinguished action-comedies like "The Pink Panther 2" alongside the occasional winner like 2010's "The Karate Kid." But he's never worked on anything as accomplished or as personal as "The 12th Man."

Based on the true story of World War II resistance fighter Jan Baalsrud (played by Thomas Gullestad), "The 12th Man" weaves a tale of wilderness survival into a more expansive look back at how Norway refused to make things easy for the Nazis. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers plays a Gestapo officer determined not to allow any Norwegian to feel emboldened.

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In 1943, Baalsrud and three trained commandos traveled with an eight-person boat crew to destroy a pivotal Nazi outpost. The rest of the party was captured or killed, but Baalsrud escaped into the mountains, where he relied on his wits, his fellow citizens and a herd of reindeer to survive the severe, bone-chilling weather.

"The 12th Man" dramatizes the most famous moments from the would-be saboteur's story, including him performing self-surgery to stave off gangrene. Fans of extreme survival movies like "The Revenant" and "All Is Lost" should appreciate this picture's frostbitten rawness.

But even more impressive is how Zwart has taken what he's learned from pricey American productions and applied it to one of his homeland's self-affirming historical sagas. "The 12th Man" is a polished crowd-pleaser, with a timeless message: Nazis suck.

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‘The 12th Man’

In Norwegian and German with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes

Playing: Arena Cinelounge Sunset, Hollywood

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