Some stories shake us to the core. They make us sit up, and pay attention. They inspire and humble us. The 12th Man is one of those stories.
Based on true events, The 12th Man tells the incredible tale of Jan Baalsrud (Thomas Gullestad)—the only surviving member of a group of Norwegian resistance fighters, who in 1943, finds himself injured, trapped behind enemy lines, and pitted against the bitter northern climate.
Gullestad gives an utterly captivating performance as Baalsrud. Jonathan Rhys Meyers—who learnt German specifically for the role— provides us with an implacable enemy in the form of SS officer Kurt Stage. And so compelling are these leads that in many ways the film feels like a two-hander.
The 12th Man isn’t always comfortable viewing. There are graphic scenes which will stay with you long after the film ends. However these are never gratuitous—there’s no sadistic voyeurism here. Rather they serve to remind us of events that, though blurred by the passage of time, urgently need to be remembered.
Jan’s tale is remarkable, but so too are the encounters that he has with ordinary Norwegians who put their lives and those of their children on the line to help a man they don’t even know. Not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because his survival represents everything they hold dear: freedom, hope, and a brighter future.
As the world slides towards the right, and Nazi flags are once again being flown by those who hate, The 12th Man is a timely reminder that for evil to flourish all we have to do is nothing. As Marie Blokhus (beautifully played by Gudrun Grønnvoll) says when faced with the choice of helping Jan or giving him up: “This is our chance to prove ourselves. To prove what we believe.”