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“The Outpost” Presents The Reality Of War With Rod Lurie’s Dedicated Touch

The war in Afghanistan has not gotten much cinematic attention. Whether it’s because of films concentrating on the Iraq War more, the relatively recent nature of the conflict, or the inherent messiness of it all, there’s just a hole in the culture. Enter in Rod Lurie, who saw something in The Outpost, coming out of the Jake Tapper book The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor. The end result is not just one of Lurie’s best works, but a movie that is equally clear-headed about the war, while always being respectful to the individuals who were on the front lines. Hitting some theaters, as well as On Demand services this weekend, it’s one of the best efforts of the year, so far.

This film is a war drama, depicting the events of the Battle of Kamdesh, what would be the bloodiest American engagement of the Afghan War in 2009. The focus is on an extremely small unit of U.S. soldiers, left all alone at the remote Combat Outpost Keating, an outpost located in incredibly hostile territory. The troops are essentially trapped deep in the valley of three mountains in Afghanistan, where an attack by the Taliban is a question of when, not if. Under the leadership of Captain Ben Keating (Orlando Bloom), Bravo Troop 3-61 CAV is a unit that spends their days beating back constant little skirmishes by the enemy. Among the group are Staff Sergeant Clint Romesha (Scott Eastwood), a no-nonsense solider, as well as Specialist Ty Carter (Caleb Landry Jones), who struggles to fit in. Each day brings another struggle, sometimes even a deadly one. Eventually, an overwhelming force of Taliban fighters descend on them in a coordinated attack, making their mission all about survival. Bravo Troop 3-61 CAV would go on to become one of the most decorated units of the 19-year conflict, but not without a significant cost of human life. Lurie directs a screenplay by Eric Johnson and Paul Tamasy, based on Tapper’s book. Lorenzo Senatore handles the cinematography, while the score is by Larry Groupé. Supporting players in the cast include the likes of Milo Gibson, Cory Hardrict, Jack Kesy, Bobby Lockwood, Jacob Scipio, Celina Sinden, and Taylor John Smith, among others.

Rod Lurie has a palpable passion for the material, without question, and that helps set it apart. Lurie has always impeccably cast his flicks, and this is no exception. As a director, he puts believable individuals in front of his camera, allowing them to shine. Here, Caleb Landry Jones is the standout performance, turning in deeply affecting work. Lurie himself is a veteran and cares deeply for these young soldiers, which makes the realism with which he depicts the battle another form of tribute. There are no glory of battle scenes, and the deaths are matter of fact. When the climax ends, you may well find yourself glued to your seat with sweat. Lurie takes Jake Tapper’s account of this unit and puts you right there with them. It’s chaotic, disorienting, and visceral in all the right ways.

The Outpost is never pro-war or anti-war in its approach, which is unique in terms of military thrillers, but it’s consistent in honoring the human beings who make up a war. While not being hero worship like American Sniper or Lone Survivor, it’s not an outward critique like The Hurt Locker or Stop-Loss, either. This singular DNA, a credit not just to Lurie, but to Tapper as well, really gives it an identity that’s impossible to shake.

Awards-wise, this might be a tough sell for voters, but the quality is there. Once upon a time, Academy members fell head over heels for well made war films, and The Outpost is far more than simply that. In particular, Lurie’s direction, the film itself, and Jones’ performance stand tall. Oscar may not end up paying attention to this one like they should, but you shouldn’t make that same mistake.

This weekend, anyone wanting to see an exceptional war movie, one with deep abiding respect for the men and women in harm’s way, but also with an incredibly clear-eyed take on the folly of putting them there, should make it their business to see The Outpost. This is an extremely effective flick, one with action, heart, and intelligence. Truly, it’s a highlight for 2020 and is not to be missed.

Be sure to check out The Outpost, in select theaters and available on VOD this Friday!

(Photos courtesy of Screen Media Films)

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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