“The Outpost” Movie Review

the outpost - h - 2020

     Few war films have the “you’re there” quality exhibited by director Rod Lurie’s “The Outpost”, the true story of the 2009 Battle of Kamdesh which saw an small Army outpost in Afghanistan overrun by the Taliban in what proved to be an overwhelming tactical blunder on the part of U.S. forces.  Outpost Keating, as it was known, was situated near the Pakistan border and nestled within a valley overlooked by a vast mountain range, providing the enemy with an enviable vantage point for both surveillance and attack.  Lurie and screenwriters Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson recreate the unnerving existence on the outpost for the soldiers who were assigned there as a means of being in close proximity with neighboring villages and the ongoing mission to create important relationships with the local population.  

     This outpost is under the command of Lieutenant Benjamin Keating (Orlando Bloom), a  mission first Officer who values the opinion of his men and enjoys a solid relationship with virtually everyone under his command.  He’s the kind of leader who rather than dressing down someone under his charge by utilizing his authority, prefers to remind the group of his position or his need for their attention with a more soft spoken even joking style.  He leads a mission out in front of his troops, rather than behind, which is important given the often chaotic nature of existing in the environment these men are forced to cope with.  And with what they endure, you have to wonder if the need for this particular outpost outweighed the benefits.

     On a near daily basis, the Taliban perches themselves on the various mountain ridges which surround the outpost on one side.  From there, they can snipe at anyone walking around, while also gathering important intel on tactics and operations.  A common site will see soldiers immediately thrust into a battle while wearing shorts and a t-shirt since this is not a situation where everyone is on duty all the time, but one can certainly find themselves in a life and death situation instantly.  When an attack comes, the best method of defense is firing 50 caliber guns toward the threat, while mortar specialists get in position and subsequently destroy the enemy.  This way too often occurrence costs lives, meaning replacements often arrive when casualties are flown out.

     Two notable arrivals include Sergeant Clint Romesha (Scott Eastwood) and Specialist Ty Carter (Caleb Landy Jones), who both end up playing major roles in the historical significance of the events depicted in the film.  As many screenplays tend to do, foreshadowing is ever present in several early scenes, one of which has Romesha leading a patrol on the ridges overlooking the outpost when one of his men asks how he would go about assaulting their camp if he were the Taliban.  And this where the audience gets a bird’s eye tour of the encampment.  We see where the barracks are located, where the ammo and weapons are stored, and we learn where the generator that powers the entire operation is and what problems would occur if communications were wiped out.  When you hear this kind of dialogue, you know it will matter later.  The entire set up is not unlike Michael Bay’s “13 Hours”, although this is far and away a much better film.

     Lurie ensures we know many of these characters well before the third act explodes into what we know from the beginning is inevitable.  Carter seems a little off in his first scenes. A bit of an outcast if you will, who struggles to fit in.  Early on he is one of the guys running ammo to gunners in his PT gear, seemingly dodging bullets as they whiz by him and land inches away.  How could you blame someone for being a little shaky under these conditions?  We learn he was once a Marine who got kicked out, only to hold a half dozen or so medial jobs back home before the Army finally accepted him.  And what is he gifted by his superiors between running gun battles?  The unwanted task of burning barrels full of shit from the outpost’s latrines.  

     But regardless of rank, life here remains a constant exercise in survival with no real goal or tangible mission for anyone to hold on to.  They are afforded down time that sees them lifting homemade weights, talking to loved ones on a satellite phone, but more often just passing the time in sheer boredom.  That is until an attack comes out of nowhere and they instantly posture to defend the camp and annihilate the threat before one of them is killed.  The entire time, you’re watching this and wondering why these guys needed to be there in the first place, but as Keating mentions early on in the story, they will always accomplish what is asked of them, regardless of whether or not they agree with the importance of the mission or the fact the plan may not be tactically sound and could result in casualties.  In these conditions, you do what you’re told, regardless of your position in the food chain.

     When you consider what is going on today within our society, one has to wonder if the sacrifices made by the men and women of our military are taken into account when the unparalleled freedoms we enjoy are often taken for granted and often utilized in nefarious self indulgent ways.  Brought to life by standout performances from all involved, these soldiers were fighting and dying in order to quell an ongoing terrorist threat against our country and did so with the kind of honor and courage most are incapable of even dreaming of.  With “The Outpost”, Lurie has created the standard for a film depicting the Iraq/Afghan wars, doing so while offering a narrative that goes well beyond the expected action sequences, while injecting life into each of these men.  Some of them survive.  Others do not.  But we care because we know them and what they stood for.  This is the kind of dedication and selfless service our country was built on.  GRADE: A