In 2006 during Operation Enduring Freedom the United States put together a counterinsurgency plan which included setting up a series of outposts in northern Afghanistan. The aim was to connect with the locals and win their support￼￼ in stopping Taliban fighters from crossing over from Pakistan. Combat Outpast Keating was precariously nestled in a remote mountain valley and near the town of Kamdesh. It’s vulnerable location left it under constant threat of a Taliban assault.
Director Rod Lurie’s “The Outpost” tells the true story of the inevitable Battle of Kamdesh. More importantly it highlights the incredible heroism and valor shown by the soldiers who fought against insurmountable odds. The movie is a tale of two halves. The first, a wobbly attempt at introducing characters that leans too heavily on oozing machismo and relentless frat-boy jabber. And the second, a visceral and intense portrayal of combat anchored by a deeply human perspective that puts fear and bravery hand-in-hand.
The film is based on the 2012 book “The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor” by Jake Tapper. The screenplay by Eric Johnson and Paul Tamasy begins by introducing us to the troops of the ill-fated outpost. They’re led Cpt. Benjamin Keating played by Orlando Bloom sporting a Southern-ish accent (that mostly works) and a surprising gravitas and stoicism. Keating is a soldier admired by his men and committed to his duty. “We’re going to win by getting their hearts and minds” he says of locals.
Scott Eastwood plays Sgt. Clint Romesha with toughness and grit while Caleb Landry Jones gives an eye-opening performance as Spc. Ty Michael Carter. Both were Medal of Honor winners for their heroics on October 3, 2009. That’s when the Taliban surrounded the outpost with over 300 men and began their attack. Previously it had only been the occasional stray gunfire. This was a full scale assault against the vulnerable outpost and the 54 soldiers defending it.
But getting to that point in the movie is a bit maddening as endless locker-room prattle takes the place of meaningful character development. Think “Porky’s” goes to the military. It’s unfortunate because there are some good scenes showing negotiations with local villagers and conversations questioning the wisdom of their overall mission. But the first half can push your tolerance level especially if you’re hungry for deeper, fleshed out characters.
But it’s the second half which saves the movie as it thrusts these soldiers into the heart of combat and anchors their desperate experiences in authentic human emotion. A key reason it works so well is that Lurie doesn’t shy away from showing unbridled fear. These aren’t 54 Rambos standing in the open blasting machine gun fire while barely breaking a sweat. The last hour presents these men as real people, as scared and on edge as anyone else would be, but with an uncommon valor and willingness to sacrifice themselves for the men next to them.
While the first half of “The Outpost” is a borderline disservice, the second half is a fitting tribute to the soldiers who fought the Battle of Kamdesh. It takes too long to hit its mark, but once it does the film immerses you in the sheer ferocity of combat. And while the action is intense and kinetic, it never feels like your watching an action movie mainly because Lurie never loses sight of the human element. If only the first half had the same convictions. “The Outpost” is now available on VOD.
VERDICT – 3 STARS