Some of the most telling chapters of history are when ordinary people stand up for what is right against the face of evil and despite the consequences they might face. One movie that recently touched me was “The 12th Man” directed by Harald Zwart, which puts this type of courage on display.
“The 12th Man” is based on the true story of Jan Baalsrud’s escape from the Nazis during World War II. Baalsrud is one of 12 Norwegian soldiers who are backed by the allies. Trained by the British, they board a fishing boat and cross the North Sea from Scotland to occupied Norway. They carry with them eight tons of TNT and seek to destroy German military facilities as a part of Operation Martin. Along with the destruction of these installations, the group seeks to organize resistance groups in Norway.
However, their clandestine mission becomes compromised after they are reported to German military officials by a civilian contact. During their escape in a fishing boat, a German frigate attacks them. They destroy the fishing boat by detonating the explosives with a time delay fuse and make a swim for the shore. One of the soldiers is killed on the beach and 10 others are captured and later executed. Baalsrud is the only one in the group who manages to escape the Germans. He works to make his escape to neutral Sweden with the assistance of civilians.
As a student and history lover, I have read a lot about World War II. I have studied the people who were the major decision-makers, ordinary soldiers who displayed acts of extraordinary courage under fire, the battles and the civilians who worked to see their country freed from the oppression of the Nazi regime. When I was told about this film, I knew I had to watch it. I was not disappointed.
The movie is based on the 2001 book, “Jan Baalsrud and those Who Saved Him,” by Tore Haug and Astrid Karlsen Scott. The film highlights the actions taken by the civilians who helped Baalsrud escape.
After watching the movie, I did more research on Baalsrud and I feel his feelings are reflected in “The 12th Man.” His gratitude is reflected on his tombstone, where his ashes are buried next to one of the individuals, Aslak Aslaksen Fossvoll, who helped him. The inscription reads, “Thank you, all, who helped me to freedom in 1943.”
Thomas Gullestad plays Baalsrud and does a wonderful job of taking him from the pages of history and making him a real person again. Through this performance, I got a sense of Baalsurd’s character and what drove him.
The only drawback to the film is that it runs a little long. Some cuts should have been made during the editing process. It would have provided a more seamless transition.
Baalsrud’s story is also told in the books “We Die Alone: A World War II Epic of Escape and Endurance,” “Defiant Courage” and in the 1957 Oscar-nominated film, “Nine Lives.”
If you’re looking for something good to watch this weekend, “The 12th Man” is a film I highly recommend. I give “The 12th Man” eight stars out of 10. It runs for 135 minutes and is available through the Amazon and Netflix streaming services.