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On VOD: THE OUTPOST (2020)

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THE OUTPOST
(US - 2020)

Directed by Rod Lurie. Written by Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson. Cast: Scott Eastwood, Caleb Landry Jones, Orlando Bloom, Jack Kesy, Cory Hardrict, Milo Gibson, Jacob Scipio, Taylor John Smith, Jonathan Yunger, Alexander Arnold, George Arvidson, Will Attenborough, Chris Born, Ernest Cavazos, Scott Alda Coffey, Jack Devos, Sharif Dorani, Henry Hughes, James Jagger, Jack Kalian, Bobby Lockwood, Kwame Patterson, Daniel Rodriguez, Alfie Stewart, Trey Tucker, Brandon Wengryznek. (R, 123 mins)

THE OUTPOST is a harrowing chronicle of the Battle of Kamdesh, the bloodiest battle of the war in Afghanistan, taking place over a 12-hour period on October 3, 2009. In 2006, a series of outposts were created throughout the region to promote counterinsurgency, goodwill relations with locals, and to stop the flow of weapons and Taliban fighters coming in from Pakistan. PRT Kamdesh, which would eventually be renamed Camp Keating, was positioned in a cavernous area at the bottom of three peaks of the Hindu Kush Mountains, prompting one military analyst at the time to comment that it "might as well be called Camp Custer, because everyone at the outpost was going to die." Almost entirely surrounded by steep mountains with plenty of hiding places for the Taliban to mount an ambush, PRT Kamdesh is attacked in small bursts at least once a day, just to remind the Americans that they're constantly being observed. The outpost is run by CPT Keating (Orlando Bloom), who's respected by the men  and also takes his role as diplomat seriously. He establishes a good relationship with the Afghan locals, but it's a harbinger of doom to come when he's killed by a bomb blast on patrol, prompting the renaming of PRT Kamdesh to Camp Keating in his honor.






Much of the first half of THE OUTPOST is spent on establishing the atmosphere and getting to know the characters, which does get a bit dizzying and hard to follow at times. The primary soldiers on which the film focuses are outsider Sgt. Ty Carter (Caleb Landry Jones), a Marine washout and a bad attitude case who routinely mouths off to superior officers and is generally regarded as an unreliable pain in the ass by everyone, and Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha (Scott Eastwood), who's just been brought in with a new group as the film begins. There's a lot of ball-busting of the homophobic and racist variety to blow off steam ("You smell like a bag of dicks," says one, while another asks "If you had to fuck a guy, gun to your head, who would it be?" and the answer is "No gun necessary. Chuck Norris"), and one guy going off when he catches another jerking off to a stolen photo of his wife. Camp Keating goes through commanders in rapid succession: Keating's replacement, CPT Yllescas (Milo Gibson, one of Mel's sons), whose motto is "Embrace the suck," is, like his predecessor, killed by a bomb while on a routine patrol, and he's followed by the stern, standoffish CPT Broward (Kwame Patterson), who won't leave his quarters--even filling jars of piss for Carter to dispose--and there's soon whispers calling him "Broward the Coward." By the summer of 2009, Broward is relieved of duty and Keating is left in the temporary command of second-in-charge Lt. Bunderman (Taylor John Smith), with the outpost set to be closed by the Army by the first week of October. And at 5:58 am on October 3, 2009, over 300 Taliban and Afghan insurgents unleash hell from all sides of the surrounding mountains, the relentless attack coming from everywhere.


Based on the 2012 non-fiction book The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor by CNN anchor Jake Tapper (also one of about two dozen producers, along with Medal of Honor recipient Ty Carter), THE OUTPOST is directed by Rod Lurie, a West Point grad and film critic-turned-filmmaker who hasn't helmed a feature since his badly-received 2011 remake of Sam Peckinpah's STRAW DOGS. Lurie put himself in a no-win situation by remaking such an iconic film, but taken on its own terms, his version has its merits, especially with its sinister depiction of the underlying sense of menace in a small Southern town that doesn't take too kindly to outsiders. Of course, Lurie is best known for 2000's political drama THE CONTENDER, and while he's helmed other solid films (1999's DETERRENCE, 2001's THE LAST CASTLE, 2008's NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH), THE OUTPOST is his best work in the last 20 years. What's most surprising about THE OUTPOST is the fact that it's produced by Cannon cover band Millennium and was shot in their usual stomping grounds of Bulgaria. It speaks to Lurie's skill and dedication to the project--and perhaps everyone rallying around him when his 27-year-old son Hunter, to whom the film is dedicated, died unexpectedly during pre-production--that he manages to transcend Millennium's sometimes dubious budgetary constraints and quality-control issues and makes this film look like it came from a major studio. Even the clown crew at Bulgaria's Worldwide FX brings their A-game when it comes to the visual effects and CGI explosions.


With the B outfit Screen Media Films handling distribution, THE OUTPOST was likely doomed to a VOD release even before COVID-19 closed movie theaters indefinitely, but this is maybe the first new film I've seen since the advent of the pandemic that really should be seen on a big screen. Even at home, however, it succeeds as best it can in being an immersive experience, with Lurie presenting a seamlessly-edited, expertly-crafted 45-minute sequence in the second hour depicting the battle, with long takes and time spent establishing where everyone is in relation to others, creating coherence amidst the chaos, something many films of this sort don't really get a handle on. Jones does a terrific job of showing the arc of a character from screw-up to shattered hero without turning it into a cliche (and his acting in his final scene is reminiscent of Tom Hanks' breakdown in CAPTAIN PHILLIPS), while Eastwood, in a breakout performance, looks and sounds so much like his old man that it's actually eerie, especially when Broward chews out Romesha about returning fire on "suspicious activity" without authorization, and Eastwood seethes "Suspicious? So where were the bullets coming from, sir?" like Dirty Harry smarting off to a pencil-pushing boss. In addition to Eastwood and Gibson, other celebrity lineages are represented with Will Attenborough (grandson of Richard), Scott Alda Coffey (grandson of Alan Alda), and James Jagger (son of Mick), playing various soldiers at Camp Keating. A gritty, uncompromising look at the hell of war that's refreshingly lacking in tough guy posturing and jingoistic silliness typical of military actioners off the Millennium assembly line, THE OUTPOST is to the war in Afghanistan what BLACK HAWK DOWN was to the Battle of Mogadishu (fitting that Bloom is both movies), and it's one of the best films of the year so far.


Caleb Landry Jones, Rod Lurie (with pic of his late son Hunter),
and Scott Eastwood on the set of THE OUTPOST


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