Directed by Israeli American filmmaker Rod Lurie, The Outpost is an above-average war film based on the book The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor — written by CNN’s Jake Tapper. It’s based on the 2006 battle in Kamdesh, where a US Army outpost in Afghanistan was nearly wiped out by, apparently, 400 Taliban fighters.

Despite having superior training and firepower, the outpost, carrying 53 American soldiers and two Latvian advisors, was at a disadvantage because the location was considered nearly indefensible. The Outpost explains that it was a tactical mistake from the top military leadership to establish a base in a valley surrounded by mountains.

When the film begins, we note that the soldiers live in a constant state of stress, as the outpost is regularly attacked by local fighters. Here, Captain Benjamin D. Keating (Orlando Bloom) leads a “shura” where he offers village elders monetary incentives for peace and infrastructure development. He even overlooks some incidents to establish trust with the Afghans.

Unfortunately, Keating is killed in an accident when he takes on a dangerous transportation mission to please his superiors, against the misgivings of his own men.

The Outpost avoids clichéd nationalistic dialogue but fails, unlike its source material, to critique the American military complex

The next few commanding officers don’t last long either. Meanwhile, a local interpreter’s constant warnings of a large-scale attack are dismissed by superior officers. We also note that the village leaders are growing impatient with broken promises and the lack of funds.

The Outpost establishes early that there will be a massacre by the end. And the third act is certainly intense. While most performances are adequate, a couple are quite impressive. The two standout performers are Scott Eastwood as Staff Sergeant Clint Romesha, an outspoken soldier who leads a counterattack when the base is getting overwhelmed, and Caleb Landry Jones as Specialist Ty Michael Carter, a brave soldier who has no friends because of his dislike of the military culture. Both soldiers earn a medal of honour at the end.

While Staff Sergeant Clint Romesha features prominently throughout The Outpost, unfortunately Specialist Ty Michael Carter doesn’t feature as prominently until the third act. The Outpost tries hard to give every soldier the same amount of screen time. Although this adds to the film’s authenticity, it also causes us to lose interest in many of the characters, who are woefully underdeveloped anyway. To make matters worse, it’s often challenging to tell the characters apart, because many of them look the same with their uniforms and shaved heads.

The action in the final act shines thanks to the cinematography by Lorenzo Senatore — the chaotic angles establish the dread of warfare, while the brilliant continuous shots help us stay on top of the chaos.

There are some annoyingly tone-deaf moments in The Outpost though, thankfully, they’re less than most similar war films. Likewise, the film avoids the sort of clichéd nationalistic dialogue and music that plagues American films set in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Outpost also avoids romanticising the everyday life of soldiers, which adds to the film’s realism.

It’s too bad that the film ignores Jake Tapper’s critique of the American military complex. It’s clear that Rod Lurie didn’t want to rock the boat.

Instead, The Outpost focuses on playing with our anxiety. From the haunting score by Larry Groupé to the sudden scenes of brutal violence, to the PTSD suffered by some of the men, the film is good at invoking feelings of uneasiness.

Rated R for sexual references, pervasive language, grisly images and war violence

Published in Dawn, ICON, November 22nd, 2020

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