The recent revelation about Russia-paid bounties to Taliban forces for killing American soldiers adds an eerie and tragic timeliness to The Outpost. Rod Lurie’s film depicting the real-life story of one of the bloodiest battles of the Afghan War possesses an inevitably haunting quality due to the strategic blunders that led to vastly outnumbered U.S. soldiers suffering a potentially devastating attack. And current news events provide an even more sobering reminder of how our country often fails to properly support its men and women in uniform.
Lurie’s film was originally scheduled to premiere at SXSW, but has now been relegated to a smattering of the relatively few open movie theaters and wider exposure on VOD. It’s a shame, because the principal strength of The Outpost is its immersive quality, transporting viewers into the middle of the chaotic action, that will inevitably lose some impact on small screens.
A visceral and admirably crafted war film.
Nonetheless, the film, based on CNN journalist Jake Tapper’s best-selling 2012 book The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor, delivers a powerfully in-your-face experience. While lacking the technical virtuosity of Sam Mendes’ 1917, for example, the movie nevertheless does full justice to its stirring true-life tale of the 2009 Battle of Kamdesh — despite an obviously low budget.
At first, it may be hard to keep up with the plethora of information and characters presented, even with the frequent use of helpful onscreen captions. The film is set entirely at the remote Combat Outpost Keating, located in a valley at the base of three mountains. The ill-chosen location essentially made the dozens of soldiers stationed there sitting ducks, both for random small-scale attacks and the eventual attempted invasion by some 400 Taliban militants.
The film’s first half vividly conveys the efforts of the base commander First Lt. Benjamin Keating (Orlando Bloom, delivering an impressively intense turn) to negotiate with village elders to earn their cooperation. We see the soldiers, including Staff Sergeants Clint Romesha (Scott Eastwood, whose real-life character’s name only makes the actor’s uncanny resemblance to his famous father more obvious) and Ty Carter (Caleb Landry Jones), engaging in day-to-day life at the camp, numbing routines and profane banter occasionally interrupted by terrifying attacks that come out of nowhere.
Among the more harrowing episodes are a soldier getting blown to bits by an IED, with one of his colleagues in shock after witnessing the event, and a troubling encounter with a young Afghan man taking pictures at the camp. Viewers would be well advised not to get overly attached to all of the characters, since several of them don’t make it past the 30-minute mark.
It’s during the second hour, depicting the 12-hour firefight that occurred on October 3, 2009, that the film really hits its stride. Using handheld cameras and shooting in long, uninterrupted takes, Lurie, with the invaluable help of cinematographer Lorenzo Senatore, delivers a visceral experience that succeeds in its goal of keeping viewers as disoriented and on edge as the desperate soldiers fighting for their lives. That the intensity is maintained for such a lengthy amount of screen time is a testament to the incredibly hard-working efforts of both the technical crew and the ensemble’s ability to handle the considerable physical demands placed on them.
The screenplay by Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson (The Fighter, Patriots Day) isn’t quite as successful in fully engaging us with the principal characters. But director Lurie, who himself graduated from West Point and served four years in the military, makes up for it with his obvious affinity for the brave soldiers whose story he’s telling.
That becomes most evident in the brief final section, depicting the emotional aftermath of the fateful battle in which eight Americans were killed, and the end credits featuring testimonies by several of the real-life soldiers involved, including Daniel Rodriguez, who plays himself in the film. Onscreen graphics detail the numerous medals and citations awarded to soldiers who participated in the battle, including the Medals of Honor awarded to Romesha and Carter. There’s also a moving onscreen dedication to Hunter Lurie, the filmmaker’s 27-year-old son, who died as the film was in pre-production. The Outpost may be a brutal war film, but it’s also an obvious labor of love.
Production companies: Millennium Media, York Films
Distributor: Screen Media
Cast: Scott Eastwood, Caleb Landry Jones, Orlando Bloom, Jack Kesy, Cory Hardrict, Milo Gibson, Jacob Scipio, Taylor John Smith, James Jagger, Jonathan Yunger
Director: Rod Lurie
Screenwriters: Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson
Producers: Paul Merryman, Paul Tamasy, Marc Frydman, Jeffrey Greenstein, Jonathan Yunger, Les Weldon
Executive producers: Avi Lerner, Trevor Short, Rob Van Norden, Boaz Davidson, John Kalafatis, Tommy Vlahopoulos, Joanna Kalafatis, Jake Tapper, Eric Johnson, Andrew Georgiev
Director of photography: Lorenzo Senatore
Production designer: P. Erik Carlson
Editor: Michael Duthie
Costume designer: Anna Gelinova
Composer: Larry Groupe
Casting: Dan Hubbard
Available in theaters and on demand
Rated R, 122 min.