For the first hour of The Outpost—the phenomenal, visceral new film by director Rod Lurie—the U.S. soldiers stationed at the would-be death trap that is PRT Kamdesh in Afghanistan shoot the breeze while ducking a few stray bullets here and there. Like 2017’s Dunkirk, 2014’s Fury, and 2001’s Black Hawk Down, it is buoyed by a palpable sense of realism, and as with those films, nothing in the opening acts of The Outpost can prepare you for the carnage (and courage) to come.
Dramatizing the actual 2009 battle that cost eight American soldiers their lives and injured 29 others, the film relies on that realism to draw you in, keep you there, and then make it damn near impossible for you to let go. Using Jake Tapper’s 2012 non-fiction bestseller as a backbone, the script by The Fighter’s Eric Johnson and Paul Tamasy not only gives one of the most decidedly heroic battalions their due, it drops the audience head-first into the action, painting an all-too-vivid picture of the horrific odds these men were up against. Parenthetically, it’s one of a few films released during the COVID-19 crackdown that demands to be seen on a big screen with a booming sound system.
Scott Eastwood leads the way as Staff Sergeant Clint Romesha, a soldier’s soldier who, though not the top man in the camp, displays all the hallmarks of a leader. His fellow soldiers include Orlando Bloom as Captain Ben Keating, an award-worthy Caleb Landry Jones as Specialist Ty Carter, and Milo (son of Mel) Gibson as Captain Robert Yllesca. To a man, it’s clear they’re the best the Army has to offer, but they’re also multi-dimensional human beings who, with only a few words, give us a true sense of their individual characters, warts and all. And that, in turn, pulls us into the story that much more quickly. We’re deeply invested in the lives of these men almost from the jump.
As for the plot of the film, there really isn’t one (at least in the conventional sense). Johnson and Tamasy are content (and the film is better for it) to simply let the day-in-the-life scenarios play out in front of us. Whether we’re watching the men play cards in the barracks or dodge RPGs when the crap starts flying, the verisimilitude puts us right there with them. You can feel the heat, taste the dust, and smell the sweat.
And then, halfway through the film, the crap really starts to fly, as a massive, well-armed Taliban force launches an all-out assault on the camp, just days before its scheduled closure. It makes the Charge of the Light Bridge seem like a well-thought-out military endeavor, as 300 enemy fighters blindside a couple of dozen U.S. soldiers. Even worse, the location of the camp is in the depths of a narrow valley, surrounded on all sides by towering mountains, making the Americans easy pickings on the low ground.
Lurie, a veteran himself, worked with cinematographer Lorenzo Senatore to make the hour-long attack among the more harrowing battle scenes ever committed to film. Extended tracking shots, in-your-face cameras, and razor-sharp editing by Michael Duthie all combine to create a sequence worthy of comparison to the first half-hour of Saving Private Ryan.
Though by no means an easy watch, The Outpost is as worthy of your attention as any film so far this summer. Alas, due to these uncertain, largely movie-free times, the film is likely to go relatively ignored, but out of respect for the men and also as a way to learn about (and honor) their incredible feats and devastating sacrifice, search it out. And then take cover.