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"THE OUTPOST"
(2020) (Caleb Landry Jones, Scott Eastwood) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Action: American troops try to defend a remote and poorly located outpost from repeated Taliban attacks in Afghanistan.
PLOT:

It's 2009 and deep in the valley of three mountains in Afghanistan's Nuristan Province near the town of Kamdesh lies Combat Outpost Keating, a U.S. military base located there as part of America's counterinsurgency strategy during the War in Afghanistan.

The commander there is First Lt Benjamin Keating (ORLANDO BLOOM) who believes that the success of their mission -- not to mention their own safety - lies in having good relations with the local elders in helping them against Taliban-backed forces.

But Keating and those serving under him, including Staff Sergeant Clint Romesha (SCOTT EASTWOOD), First Lt Andrew Bundermann (TAYLOR JOHN SMITH), Staff Sgt Ty Carter (CALEB LANDRY JONES), and various others, must contend with routine random attacks from the steep hills above the base. With mortars being the only thing that fends off such attacks, the soldiers realize they're sitting ducks, with word that the military is planning on shutting down the base.

Before that can happen, however, and following a revolving door of commanding officers, the Taliban mounts a coordinated attack involving hundreds of fighters. With no support from the outside and dwindling supplies, the soldiers try to fend off the attackers and hold the fort.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10

I'll readily admit I have zero military experience and certainly no expertise in military planning. But one thing I know -- both from movies and history books -- is that geographically related, being on higher ground is far more advantageous than being down low.

Think of old fortresses and castles over past centuries where those up high on the walls had a far easier and usually much more successful response in warding off attackers down on the ground than those trying to make their way and/or fire their weaponry up.

It's the old shooting fish in a barrel concept and thus I was stunned to learn that the U.S. military had situated an American base in the valley of three mountains in Afghanistan's Nuristan Province near the town of Kamdesh. With steep rocky terrain surrounding what became known as Combat Outpost Keating, the soldiers there were literally sitting ducks for attacks from above, something that happened routinely and then came to a head on October 3, 2009.

That's when hundreds of Taliban fighters assembled to attack the outpost, resulting in the Battle of Kamdesh. Eight Americans perished, another twenty-seven were wounded, and four officers in the chain of command responsible were disciplined for failing to adequately support and supply the base.

Jack Tapper used all of that as the basis for his 2012 non-fiction book, "The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor" and now director Rod Lurie has used that as the source material for his filmed account of the event, "The Outpost."

Ranking up there with the opening sequence of "Saving Private Ryan" and much of "Black Hawk Down," the film is an immersive, riveting and gut-wrenching experience, best suited for the big screen but, alas, most likely will be viewed on much smaller ones due to the current pandemic. Even so, if you want a small taste of what it must have been like -- while also experiencing the madness of soldiers unnecessarily being put in harm's way due to poor decisions and negligence, but showing extreme bravery in the face of danger and extremely long odds -- the film will nonetheless still deliver that in spades.

Lurie -- who works from a script by Eric Johnson and Paul Tamasy -- opens the film with new soldiers arriving at the outpost that's commanded by its namesake officer, 1st Lieutenant Benjamin D. Keating (Orlando Bloom). As has been done in many a war movie before it, we're introduced to the way of life in the camp -- the profane machismo, the brotherly camaraderie and the boredom and unease that's peppered by random attacks from the rocky hills above the base. There's also a bevy of soldier characters who, I must admit, mostly all blended together even with Lurie's use of on-screen titles to identify who's who.

That said, a few stand out, including Bloom is his most commanding presence yet on the big screen. Scott Eastwood (yes, Clint's son) also grabs the viewer's eye, but it's Caleb Landry Jones as a former Marine turned civilian turned Army grunt who's the most captivating. Teaming with all sorts of personal issues -- the most troublesome being his initial lack of respect for most of his fellow soldiers -- his character (and the actor's fine performance) probably shows the truest representation of what it's like to be in and around the maelstrom.

Speaking of which, once the characters are introduced and commanding officers come and go for various reasons, the you know what eventually hits the fan and Lurie pulls out all the stops in depicting the horrors of the Battle of Kamdesh. Condensing the real-life attack down into the film's second half, the filmmaker drops you smack dab in the middle of the action and doesn't let up while smartly abstaining from the usual Hollywood heroics often found in such genre pics.

Simply put, you'll feel like you're there and will likely have such a visceral reaction that you'll be relieved when it's over. Honoring the men who lost their lives and the bravery of those who held the base, all while not getting preachy about the responsible negligence, Lurie delivers a strong film about the horrors of war and those directly affected by that. "The Outpost" rates as a 7 out of 10.




Reviewed June 25, 2020 / Posted July 3, 2020


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