“The Outpost” ranks alongside “The Hurt Locker” and “American Sniper” as an unflinching and heart-stopping depiction of the chaos of modern warfare.
Directed by Rod Lurie (“The Contender,” “The Last Castle”) and based on the nonfiction book by journalist and TV anchor Jake Tapper, “The Outpost” is set in October 2009 and tells the story of the Battle of Kamdesh, when a force of about 300 heavily armed Taliban swarmed an extremely vulnerable base in a remote valley surrounded by the Hindu Kush Mountains in eastern Afghanistan. As the title cards tell us, the base was known as Camp Custer, because “everyone at the outpost was going to die.”
With Serbia filling in for Afghanistan, “The Outpost” has a distinctive docudrama look, with the camera eavesdropping on the day-to-day activities of more than 50 soldiers assigned to the camp. They rib one another with politically incorrect racial and sexual humor, they mockingly say “Thank you for your service” to one another multiple times a day, and they’re always aware of the dangers lurking in the mountains. At any moment, the shooting will start, and they’ll take cover and start firing back at the enemy in the shadows.
Orlando Bloom is outstanding as 1st Lt. Ben Keating, a no-nonsense leader who is genuinely invested in working with the local elders and trying to negotiate peace with the younger generation, many of whom could be Taliban. He tells his troops, “I will continue to speak softly in the valley. … On the other hand, I will carry all of you like a big f—ing stick.”
Most of the first half of the film is about getting to know the players, all based on real-life soldiers, with the stellar cast led by Milo Gibson as the heroic Capt. Robert Yllescas; Cory Hardrict as the brave and resourceful Sgt. Vernon Martin; Caleb Landry Jones as the temperamental live-wire Staff Sgt. Ty Carter, and Scott Eastwood (looking more than ever like his father, Clint) as Staff Sgt. Clint Romesha, who skirts possible disciplinary action to do whatever it takes to save his own men. Just when we’re lulled into a sense of routine, “The Outpost” hits with a shocking moment reminding us of the cruel and arbitrary nature of war, e.g., when a casual conversation between two men is truncated by a deadly explosion.
The second half of the film is a brutally authentic re-creation of the Battle of Kamdesh, which ignited in the gray of predawn and continued through the day and into the night, as hundreds of Taliban fighters swooped down from the mountains and eventually penetrated the command post, killing eight Americans and wounding 27. (An estimated 150 Taliban were killed before the fighting ended.)
Outnumbered 5-to-1 and tasked with holding down the camp for hours until aerial backup could arrive, Romesha and his men continually put themselves in harm’s way to fend off the attackers – and to save one another. All their petty squabbles and cultural differences are erased in the bloody fog of war, as they protect one another like the brothers in arms they are. Lurie has fashioned a worthy tribute to these brave American soldiers, some of whom paid the ultimate price.