Nothing stirs patriotism on the Fourth of July more than a war drama about American heroes. Films like Rod Lurie's "The Outpost," which tells the story of the Oct. 3, 2009, Battle of Kamdesh, where eight U.S. soldiers were killed when insurgents stormed an isolated base in northern Afghanistan. It was one of the deadliest battles for our troops since the U.S. occupation began in 2001.
The highlight is a 35-minute battle sequence equal parts noble and brutal. Lurie and his director of photography Lorenzo Senatore shoot the heck out of that climatic firefight. The action is-in-your-face relentless, grabbing you by the jugular and depositing you directly into the fray. It's so visceral, you might be fumbling for your own rifle. The camera follows the soldiers as they dodge bullets, shield their wounded, struggle to find cover while shouting for more ammo. Like the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, the sequence seems to go on forever. Lurie is adept at simulating the carnage - and camaraderie - of battle. His message is quite clear: war is hell, but it's full of heroes.
A former-film-critic-turned-director, Lurie ("Straw Dogs") is a graduate of West Point and his military background lends street cred to a movie culled from CNN anchor Jake Tapper's book, "The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor." The screenplay, co-written by Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson ("The Fighter"), also tells the stories of the men - some who lived and some who died - from Bravo Troop 3-61 CAV. It's one of the most decorated units (27 Purple Hearts, 3 Bronze Stars, 2 Medal of Honors) of the 19-year conflict. To play them, Lurie lines up an exceptional cast consisting of Scott Eastwood, Orlando Bloom, Caleb Landry Jones, Taylor John Smith and Jack Kesy.
An air of foreboding surrounds the opening scene, when a group of reinforcements arrives at the camp, a place where no one wants to be assigned because they're sitting ducks. The small base, housing about 53 soldiers, is in an impregnable valley surrounded by mountains full of Taliban firing off assault rifles and RPGs at will. "Welcome to the dark side of the moon," one soldier offers.
Most of the movie unfolds at the outpost, a setting not unlike a haunted house where the occupants get picked off one-by-one. Same goes for Camp Custer, the nickname derived by the high mortality rate. The situation is dangerous, but there's ample gallows humor. Think clichéd frat boy stuff concerning wives and girlfriends. That kind of predictability is overshadowed by the courage and pride on display, especially in Eastwood's "not-on-my-watch" portrayal of Staff Sgt. Clint Romesha, whose sense of duty inspires others to rise to the occasion. Bloom ("Lord of the Rings") also makes an impression as beloved Lt. Benjamin Keating. But Jones ("Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri") as Army Specialist Ty Carter steals every scene. He's a believably tough malcontent who's precisely the guy you want at your side in a firefight.
Some of the more stirring sequences arise when the soldiers call home to talk to their loved ones, which gives an intimate look at the daily existence of soldiers balancing homesickness with accomplishing their mission. We get to know a little bit about a lot of soldiers, and it sometimes overwhelms. There are myriad characters to keep track of, which becomes confusing, especially when the action picks up and it's difficult to decipher who's who.
Despite that, Lurie is resolute in his depiction of the bravery of men who so love their country and mates that they will follow their leaders into any situation. Even those of us who have never dodged enemy fire or threw a grenade have a sense that he has gotten it right.
- "The Outpost"
- Cast: Scott Eastwood, Caleb Landry Jones, Orlando Bloom.
- (R for war violence and grisly images, pervasive language, and sexual references.)
- Grade B+