Movie Review: Soldiers face an Afghanistan “last stand” at “The Outpost”

 

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“The Outpost” is a straight-no-chaser account of a real-life battle during America’s Afghan War.

Cinematically, it’s “Zulu” or “The Green Berets,” with a heavy dose of the Afghan War documentary “Restrepo” for realism. It is chaotic, noisy and bloody, a movie dusted with “The Fog of War,” because this is how firefights really happen, and sometimes they blow up into full-fledged battles.

PRT (Provincial Reconstruction Team) Kamdesh was a base shoved into a mountain valley, surrounded by peaks and cliffs all around, so vulnerable the rotating Army units serving there nicknamed it “Camp Custer.”

We’re introduced to it through the eyes of new men assigned there, including stoic Staff Sgt. Romesha (Scott Eastwood) and hotheaded Sgt. Carter (Caleb Landry Jones), who was briefly in the Marines and isn’t shy about reminding the rest of their unit about that.

They’re here to win “hearts and minds,” get cooperation from and help protect the locals. But as events leading up to The Battle of Kamdesh demonstrate, this place is more about “blood and guts.”

Sniper fire and mortar fire directed from everything overlooking the camp makes it perilous. Taliban-sympathizing locals use visits to photograph and mark the camp’s vulnerable points. The “A of A,” Army of Afghanistan “trainees” among them are of suspect value and uncertain security risk.

The lead-up to the battle story is framed in chapters titled after commanding officers, “KEATING” being the first. He’s played by Orlando Bloom, and when Keating is ordered to get an MTVR, heavy-duty over-sized truck to a point 13 miles away, he takes the wheel for the dangerous mission, leading the convoy himself.

That leads to a new commanding officer, and so on down the line through the film. The “random” attacks grow in intensity, the base is slated for closure, that closure is delayed. And Sgt. Romesha takes a patrol out and basically lays out the way he would attack it, predicting the firefight to come, a rich tradition in combat films.

The early acts of this two hour-plus drama are littered with shootouts and strained, exaggerated Army trash talk, “with our shield of ON it” “300” references, “SOMEbody’s gotta win this war” and the like. Carter rubs so many men the wrong way he gets into a shouting match in the MIDDLE of an attack.

“I will NOT argue and fight at the SAME time! SIR!”

Director Rod Lurie (the “Straw Dogs” remake) fills the screen with intertitles — helpfully identifying every soldier by name, annoyingly stating the obvious “Landing Zone” and “Command Post” and “Barracks.”

Once things blow up and hundreds of Taliban pour in, the tempo and urgency pick up.  The lay of the land, the horrors of fighting an enemy shooting and swarming in from all sides make the battle itself a maelstrom — white hot here, other men sheltered, getting pep talks, yelling into the radio and frantically trying to figure out how and where to respond — and Steadicam tracking shots put us into the fight, as confused as the men doing the shooting are.

A super-realistic touch — soldiers quaking at being ordered to or simply, by necessity, having to dash hither and yon for ammo, wounded comrades or to take up positions under a hailstorm of bullets and RPGs.

“The Outpost” is a movie without much of an agenda, aside from the military picking a stupid place for a base, maintaining it for (Afghan) political reasons and inadequately supporting it when all Hell broke loose.

It’s main fault is the slack time leading up to the battle, the bored soldiers playing “waterboarding” and exchanging advice “Don’t think of your wife” until you’re on your way home. There were 79 U.S. personnel there (and 42 Afghan allies, all but written out of the story) and at times, it seems like every one of them was cast as a speaking part.

So there’s clutter leading up to the “cluster-f–k” of a fight, and chaos afterwards.

“The Outpost” is still an engrossing and immersive look at an isolated battle in “America’s Longest War,” a representative bloody stalemate in a country where that’s the best most of those fighting there can hope for.

2half-star6

MPAA Rating: R for war violence and grisly images, pervasive language, and sexual references

Cast: Scott Eastwood, Caleb Landry Jones, Bobby Lockwood, Kwame Patterson and Orlando Bloom.

Credits: Directed by Rod Lurie, script by Eric Johnson and Paul Tamasy. A Millennium/Screen Media release.

Running time: 2:03

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