Outpost, TheReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 07/01/20 10:15:30
(Worth A Look)
As I am assuming you all know by this point, pretty much every movie that I have covered since around mid-March is one that I have reviewed off of my television or computer from the confines of my lightly fortified bunker. While I would almost always prefer to see a film in a theater as opposed to on a much smaller screen, this adjustment has been relatively easy to make since the big-ticket movies that truly require the full big-screen experience have all been delayed until further notice and the ones that have emerged have not really lost all that much as a result of the diminished size of their presentations. (In the case of a listless clunker like Kenneth Branagh’s disastrous fantasy “Artemis Fowl,” the decision to premiere it via streaming may have saved Disney millions of dollars and an untold amount of embarrassment.) In the case of “The Outpost,” we have the first new movie in several months that clearly needs to be seen on the big screen in order to get the full concussive impact of director Rod Lurie’s attempt to recreate a particular harrowing 2009 battle between US forces and the Taliban in Afghanistan. And yet, the film has been made with such skill and dignity that its impact still manages to come across despite the greatly reduced circumstances under which most people will be experiencing it.Based on Jake Tapper’s 2012 book “The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor,” the film follows the men manning Combat Outpost Keating, a location in north-eastern Afghanistan that was originally designed to help American forces forge relationships with locals as a way of helping to turn the tide against the Taliban. Unfortunately, the outpost has been located at the bottom of three tall mountains situated a few miles from the Pakistan border that leaves the soldiers constantly vulnerable to attack from Taliban firing upon them from above. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Army has decided to close down the location, though they do not quite convey this information to the men at first, instead directing them to move an enormous truck up the dangerously unstable mountain roads so that it can be used elsewhere. What the soldiers do not realize is that as a result of this decision, the Army has shifted attention and resources away from the post, leaving it even more vulnerable than usual. As a result, confusion tends to reign and when a local informant warns of an imminent attack, his words hardly sink in. On October 3, 2009, the worst case scenario comes true as the 53 already exhausted American soldiers stationed there find themselves fighting off a swarm of more than 400 Taliban forces in a siege that would last nearly the entire day and which would become one of the bloodiest battles that the Army would undertake in that region.
At this point, I can readily understand why a number of you might have little to no interest in seeing this particular movie. After all, the last few years have seen a number of films that have offered viewers recreations of various post 9/11 military endeavors that have presented themselves as powerful tributes to the troops who fought and died but which have turned out to be little more than films combining the dramatic subtlety of a WWII-era potboiler and a gore quotient rivaling the Normandy sequence from “Saving Private Ryan” that seem to exist for no other reason than to let Mark Wahlberg feed his savior complex on someone else’s dime. Needless to say, I have not been much of a fan of this particular strain of war film—and even less of a fan of the knee-jerk reaction that feels the need to call my patriotism into question because I didn’t care for a movie—and to be honest, I personally was not looking forward to this one all that much as a result as it appeared to be more of the same old thing.
As it turns out, “The Outpost” is a more complex and stylistically daring film that it might seem to be at first glance and it is all the better for it. Instead of taking the powerful raw material supplied by the actual incident and transforming it into a standard war movie scenario filled with noble speeches, highly choreographed battle scenes and the top-billed star saving the day in the ta-daa nick of time, Lurie and screenwriters Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson have elected to utilize a more immersive approach by essentially dropping viewers right into the thick of things without the usual array of character introductions or expository sequences, giving them roughly the first half of the film to get assimilated with the extended bouts on monotony punctuated by moments of high tension that make up the day-to-day existence at the outpost and then giving them a front-row seat to the hell that unfolds over the extended siege sequence that takes up nearly the entire last hour without providing them with any of the contextual explanations that they could glean from written accounts like Tapper’s book. This is a risky move to make, especially for a filmmaker like Lurie whose most effective projects to date—such as the political thrillers “Deterrence” (1999) and “Nothing But the Truth” (2008)—have largely consisted of scenes revolving around dialogue instead of physical action, but the end result is undeniably striking. As I suggested earlier, not even the most elaborate home video system can quite replicate the full theatrical experience but it is to the great credit of Lurie and his army of technicians, especially Lorenzo Senatore and editor Michael J Duthie—whose efforts go a long way to presenting the massive battle sequence in a way that replicates the sensation of the pure chaos that these soldiers must have felt without ever leaving viewers confused as to what is going on at any given point.
Another smart move of Lurie’s part to help the film’s sense of verisimilitude is his decision to largely avoid casting familiar names as the men of Combat Outpost Keating. For most viewers, the most recognizable name will be Orlando Bloom as the commanding officer, First Lt. Benjamin Keating and even in his case, it may take people a few minutes before recognition sets in. The only other actors that people might recognize are Caleb Landry Jones, who plays the increasingly fearful Staff Sgt. Ty Carter and Scott Eastwood as the more laconic Staff Sgt. Clint Romesha—the rest of the cast is filled with lesser-known names and even includes one of the actual soldiers who fought there playing himself. (Stay for the end credits where you will see interview footage with him and other survivors.) This decision may not help the film from a marketing standpoint but it proves to be the smart artistic choice. For one thing, the lack of familiar faces contributes to the tension, especially for those who do not know this particular story, since it means that the usual cinematic rule, in which we can usually be guaranteed that the top-billed stars will at least make it through to the final reel, is out the window and anyone can be killed at any time. More importantly, it helps to underscore the notion that the accomplishments of that day were less the result of individual heroics than they were of the entire group pulling together as one to vanquish the common enemy—a notion that could not possibly resonate more strongly in these particular times.“The Outpost” is a strong and effective film that celebrates and honors the men who fought the Battle of Kamdesh without devolving into an empty-headed piece of jingoism. It is clearly Lurie’s most ambitious work as a filmmaker to date and, with the exception of the tragically underseen “Nothing But the Truth,” perhaps the best as well. It is unfortunate that audiences will not be able to see it on the big screen in the way that it was intended to be shown and if it were nothing more than an exercise in sheer technical flash, along the lines of something like “1917,” the shift to smaller screens might have proved to be disastrous. However, this is a film that is just as impressive from a dramatic standpoint as it is from a technical one and that is why it is able to come across with such undeniable impact even when seen on a humble television screen.
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