Harald Zwart's thrilling The 12th Man, based on the true story of a Norwegian soldier who escaped the Nazis in WWII, is a shot of adrenaline straight to the heart but also an unexpectedly tender adventure that is as celebratory as it is tense. Over the course of a few months, Jan Baalsrud (Thomas Gullestad) survives the harshest weather of the Arctic Circle as he flees a cruel and relentless German soldier, Kurt Stage (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), with nothing but the clothes on his back -- and the kindness of the strangers that he meets. It's a good thing that Zwart alerts viewers that some of the most absurd events depicted are absolutely true -- this would be one of the wildest, most creative fugitive stories told about the Nazi occupation of Northern Europe.
Baalsrud is the only survivor of 12 men trained by the Brits for a sabotage mission in Norway. The specifics of that are left to history; the first frames of The 12th Man drop us right into the pivotal moment when Baalsrud begins his epic adventure throughout the Norwegian countryside, with one toe shot clear off and others rotting as he goes. But as his body deteriorates, the scenery of snow-covered mountains and azure waters becomes all the more beautiful. In one scene, as Baalsrud wades through an icy cold fjord to seek help from the inhabitants of a small country house, the Germans light off flares, blanketing this frozen land in a warm glow; this is a terrain that is so majestic, and often dangerous -- the crew really filmed in blizzards -- that it, like the story, is sometimes hard to believe on screen.