Synopsis – A small team of U.S. soldiers battle against hundreds of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.
My Take – It is a high possibility that the release of the film was orchestrated to coincide with 4th July, after all, nothing can stir patriotism better than war drama about national heroes on America’s Independence Day.
Though we have a whole category of war films to choose from, both straight up action filled depicting the harrowing battles taken place in Afghanistan and Iraq, and emotionally tinged, with more focus on the after effects following their survival, there are only a few in between who tend perfectly amalgamate a little of everything to successful ends, while managing to stand out, like this film, which is based on CNN journalist Jake Tapper’s 2012 non-fiction book, The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor.
Helmed by Rod Lurie (Straw Dogs), who served four years as a U.S. Army officer, this latest war film is surprisingly quite excellent, and it’s a shame that it can’t be shown on a big theatrical screen at the moment. Designed to be a visceral POV experience, on the lines of filmmaker Ridley Scott‘s Black Hawk Down and filmmaker Steven Spielberg‘s Saving Private Ryan‘, the film drops us right in the middle of Battle of Kamdesh, where eight U.S. soldiers were killed when hundreds of insurgents stormed an isolated base in northern Afghanistan, making it the deadliest battle since the U.S. occupation began in 2001.
While dozens of films have sought to recreate the unimaginable horror of literally fighting your life, this film connects more than most, thanks in large part to cinematographer Lorenzo Senatore‘s technical skill and a young cast which consists of a numbers of showbiz descendants like Scott Eastwood, Milo Gibson, James Jagger, Will Attenborough, who along with a very talented Caled Landry Jones and a well sought out Orlando Bloom, elevate what could have been overly familiar material.
But most importantly what further hoists director Lurie‘s film is that it he never allows the proceedings to turn into blind jingoism, and instead remain just a simple cinematic yet raw ode to the young men caught in the middle of it all.
Set during the war in Afghanistan, the story follows the soldiers of a remote U.S. Army outpost known as PRT Kamdesh, which has no particular strategic value and is in fact situated in a valley ringed by three mountains. The mountains which are constantly crawling with Taliban fighters, whose sudden bursts of gunfire crackle through random hours of the day. Yet the American army is determined to continue their presence on the land, especially in an effort to help the local Afghanis in counterinsurgency efforts against Taliban fighters who have been crawling in from neighboring Pakistan in an unlimited manner.
Hence, it is up to Outpost leader Captain Benjamin D. Keating (Orlando Bloom) to maintain morale, conduct diplomacy with the locals while figuring out ways to keep his men safe. While their numbers do significantly increase to 53 with the arrival of a new set of soldiers led by Staff Sergeant Clint Romesha (Scott Eastwood) and includes the introverted Specialist Ty Michael Carter (Caleb Landry Jones), however, when a whole army of about 400 Taliban fighters begin attacking unprovoked from all sides, despite their personality conflicts, these outnumbered men have to protect one another in order to survive.
The first hour of the film sets the stage, showing the day-to-day life of these soldiers as it picks up on their individual quirks, their shared camaraderie, and on the tension around them and sometimes between them. In doing this, director Rod Lurie gives an insight to see how disparate their days were. At times, the activities at the outpost can feel mundane and routine. At other times, gunfire erupts crashing into their routine like thunder crashing through a sunny day.
However, it is in the second half of the film where all hell breaks loose, as director Lurie devotes it completely to the ferocious battle, with breathtaking stretches of wonderfully well-choreographed action. The action is-in-your-face relentless, as it follows the soldiers as they dodge bullets, shield their wounded, struggle to find cover while shouting for more ammo. While, the sequence seems to go on forever, director Lurie is adept at simulating the carnage and the camaraderie of the battle.
Aided immeasurably by cinematographer Lorenzo Senatore, whose long tracking shots through dark rooms and then right out again into blazing sunlight to twirl with the actors through gunfire and explosions, is a rare achievement in war-film camerawork. Just looking at the geographic layout of the outpost at Kamdesh in Afghanistan in 2006, one realizes how that mission to survive was a daily concern, as cinematographer Lorenzo Senatore provides a tracking shot at the start of the film revealing how this real outpost was basically in the worst possible spot, at the center of a deep valley.
However, the overarching success of the film is how the realism of the soldier’s relationships and the realism of combat are not separate from one another. Their humor is dark, which brings levity to a dire situation. They have real conflict among one another, and yet they unite in a single mission. If nothing else, they are first and foremost concerned with how well everyone can do their jobs, respect is directly proportional to whether that person can keep himself and the others alive. Not only does the film illustrate these dynamics, it invites the audience to step inside that world and share the thoughts and feelings of these soldiers on the ground.
Yes, the dialogue often overlaps, and many of the faces blend together, but that’s part of the point. These men were similar in age and often in background, and they all alternated the extreme boredom of a distant outpost with the constant terror associated with imminent attack.
Among the huge stacked cast of mainly unknowns, Scott Eastwood is particularly solid, giving a performance that is so reminiscent of his father’s youth, and so is Caleb Landry Jones who delivers yet another fascinating performance. While Orlando Bloom has a comparatively smaller role, he manages to bring in a likable charm. In other roles, Jack Kesy, Milo Gibson, Cory Hardrict, Jack DeVos, Ahmad Sakhi, Chris Born, Will Attenborough, Taylor John Smith, Trey Tucker, James Jagger, Alfie Stewart, Jack Kalian, Ernest Cavazos, Jacob Scipio and Jonathan Yunger manage to do well. On the whole, ‘The Outpost’ is an excellent action filled war drama that depicts a harrowing real life battle quite efficiently.
Directed – Rod Lurie
Rated – R
Run Time – 128 minutes