If you like war movies without fanfare that simply focus on the intense horrors of war, then THE OUTPOST (2020) may be the movie for you.
Directed by Rod Lurie with a screenplay by Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson, based on the book The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor by Jake Tapper, THE OUTPOST tells the story of a small group of U. S. soldiers encamped in an outpost in Afghanistan which is so poorly located it isn’t funny. Surrounded completely by immense mountains, the soldiers are constantly at the mercy of the hundreds of Taliban soldiers in the mountains who fire on them daily in the hope of some day overtaking the camp.
As such, the soldiers understand that while on paper their mission is to mingle with the locals in order to win their hearts and minds, their real mission is simply to survive. And that’s really what THE OUTPOST is all about: survival.
There really isn’t a strong narrative or deep character development. The plot of THE OUTPOST simply follows the soldiers inside Camp Keating where they engage in daily banter until they are fired upon and are forced to defend themselves, trying their best not to die.
As such, the bulk of this film is not all that enjoyable because you don’t really get to know any of the characters and there’s not much of a story. What you do get is an appreciation for the stress and anxiety these soldiers go through on a daily basis. One reason a film like 1917 (2019) worked better is it chose to focus on two main characters throughout the movie and audiences saw the larger story through their eyes. That doesn’t really happen here in THE OUTPOST.
However, the film held my interest long enough to get me to the climactic battle when the Taliban finally descend upon the camp in an all out attack. This final battle is by far the best part of the movie and lifts this one to worthwhile viewing status. It’s extremely cinematic.
The sound editing and mixing throughout THE OUTPOST is impressive, and no more so during the climactic sequence. It sounded like missiles were flying through my living room!
If there is a main character in THE OUTPOST, it’s SSG Clint Romesha (Scott Eastwood), as he is in this film throughout. You don’t really learn all that much about him though, and he doesn’t really shine until the climax. As such, Eastwood, who’s Clint Eastwood’s son, is fine throughout but isn’t asked to do a whole lot until the final reel.
Perhaps this movie should have been entitled SON OF THE OUTPOST. See, in addition to Scott Eastwood, the cast also includes Milo Gibson, Mel Gibson’s son— James Jagger, Mick Jagger’s son— Will Attenborough, Richard Attenborough’s grandson— and Scott Alda Coffey, grandson of Alan Alda. Wow!
The one other character who comes close to being a main one is SPC Ty Carter (Caleb Landry Jones), a rather unhinged character who like Eastwood’s Clint Romesha, doesn’t really do a whole lot until the final battle. Caleb Landry Jones is a talented actor who has enjoyed some memorable roles in such films as THE LAST EXORCISM (2010) and GET OUT (2017). He’s very good here as well, especially in the film’s climax.
Orlando Bloom has a small role as a commanding officer who dies early on. The commanding officers at Camp Keating don’t fare so well. Their survival rate is nil, it seems.
Director Rod Lurie does an excellent job capturing the insane anxiety felt by everyone at the camp, and also does an awesome job with the film’s explosive conclusion.
The screenplay by Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson, based on true events, does the same, but falters with a lack of any kind of character development or plot pacing. The characters all have names but we know little about them, and other than their constant need to defend themselves against the surrounding Taliban soldiers, there’s nothing else driving the story forward. This may be the point, but it makes for labored viewing. The film runs for two hours and really doesn’t hit its stride until 90 minutes in.
Still, it successfully shows the viewer how horrifying and hellish soldiering can be.
I liked THE OUTPOST. For two thirds of the film it felt like a documentary, and then it stepped up its game with an intense conclusion that is second to none. I just wish it had done a better job developing its characters so that we had more reason to care for them other than the obvious one, that they were soldiers doing their jobs and making the ultimate sacrifice. So, you definitely care for these guys. You just don’t know them.
A more personal emotion connection to these men would have made the ending all the more powerful.
As it stands, THE OUTPOST is solid viewing, a sincere yet unremarkable take on soldiers at war.