The Outpost is a superbly crafted war film that shrewdly balances themes of effective leadership with harrowing battle scenes.
Battle scenes are tricky to pull off for most directors. It is very difficult to track both the individual story of specific soldiers and the overarching arc of a battle. Many throw up their hands and sporadically cut between moments of shocking gore and violence, to create a war is hell aesthetic without actually worrying about troop movements or positioning. Others find modest success by focusing on the actions of just a small handful of soldiers in the battle. Despite what is clearly a modest budget, director Rod Lurie (The Contender) has managed the feat impressively.
Let’s take a step back: The Outpost, adapted from a non-fiction book by CNN’s Jake Tapper, tells the story of a combat outpost in Afghanistan in 2009. Picking up a few months before the Battle of Kamdesh that takes up the bulk of the film’s runtime, Lurie spends just the right amount of time at the base introducing the soldier we will follow in the films major battle scene. Shorts bursts of action from attacks by the Taliban in the hills surrounding the base interrupt the monotony of base life. In these scenes, Lurie effectively lays out the geography of the base and the imposing mountain terrain that surrounds it. By the time the action starts, you have the sort of locational competence necessary to make the logistics of battle sensible.
The Outpost is laid out in a series of vignettes around the various commanders who lead the base over the time leading up to the Battle of Kamdesh. The structure makes for an effective way to emphasize Lurie’s focus on the importance of competent leadership, and cogent interactions with locals. Lurie himself is a veteran: he attended the United States Military Academy at West Point and served as an air defense artillery officer. This experience has clearly informed his views on warfare. Disciplined, sane, rational leadership is revered; impetuousness and closed-minded adherence to the edicts of paper pushers back home is detestable. Lurie plays this thesis through his characters. It will not surprise you which characters ascend under fire. He has also taken the interesting step of including some of the surviving soldiers in minor roles in the film. Generally, those sorts of gimmicks can be distracting as in Clint Eastwood’s atrocious The 15:17 to Paris or the propagandistic Navy Seal starring Act of Valor, yet here Lurie manages to work around the limited acting skill sets of his neophyte performers.
And when the action starts, it is a sight to behold. Clearly, Lurie’s military background has well prepared him for shooting cogent combat scenes. It is always easy to tell where various soldiers are located and with what aspect of the battle they are engaged. While the film does not have the same sort of budget and production values as its clearest forerunner, Black Hawk Down, it manages to achieve the same sort of overwhelming combat virtuosity.
All of the actors are perfectly adequate in their roles, though it is not the sort of movie larded up with raucous speeches or “actorly” moments. In fact, the casting of Scott Eastwood and Milo Gibson in roles that would echo their famous fathers serves the same sort of effect that casting the original might. Just the look of them gives a clear impression of what type of soldier each must be. Orlando Bloom is perhaps the most noteworthy cast member – he has a bit more acting to do that much of the rest of the cast and he is as effective as I can ever recall him.
Here’s the rub – the audience for this sort of movie is somewhat limited by the content. Many viewers simply do not have the desire to sit through a movie that is entirely about the survival experience of a number of soldiers in Afghanistan. Little about The Outpost is concerned with conventional character development, and fairly brutal action sequences make up comfortably more than half of the runtime. Still, I would give this a hearty recommendation for those interested in war films, and a more cautious recommendation for others.
The Outpost is now available to watch on Prime.
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