At this point in the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are missing the feeling of watching a blockbuster in a packed theater. I know I sure am. Luckily, some releases on various streaming services in the past couple weeks have brought to life that big screen feeling, despite it only being in the living room. One such release is The Outpost, a gritty war film set in the mountains of Afghanistan during the peak of the Taliban’s reign. This film begs to be seen with a good sound system and on a large screen due to its epic, intense and extremely well-shot battle sequences. This along with a great performance from Caleb Landry Jones and amazing direction from Rod Lurie makes The Outpost a fantastic war film that surpasses the expectations that come with being a straight-to-VOD action flick. This movie brings up some serious discussions about the unnecessary dangers of war and how we put these soldiers into horrible situations for no reason, which is more than I expected from a Scott Eastwood war film that suddenly pops up on Amazon.
In the opening text, viewers are introduced to Combat Outpost Keating, a U.S. Army base in the middle of Afghanistan that is surrounded by tall mountains on all sides. This position leaves the outpost extremely vulnerable, and puts the soldiers stationed there in constant danger. The Army is there to make good relations with the locals while snuffing out any Taliban forces, but things soon start to take a turn for the worst. As the film goes on, things start to look more and more grim for this tiny little outpost, and soon it erupts into a full-on battle: one of the bloodiest since the Afghan War began. The Outpost is a completely true story — every single soldier in this movie actually exists, the depicted events are remarkably close to the true events, and one of the actual soldiers even stars in the movie. This makes the eruptions of violence that occur throughout far more impactful, and gives the audience a real appreciation of the horrors these soldiers go through for the good of America.
The first striking thing about The Outpost is how well director Rod Lurie films it. He uses long and intimate takes for each scene, including the prolonged action scenes. Lurie clearly wants the audience to feel like they are trapped in this base with the soldiers, and this strategy works wonders. At times it even feels like a Call of Duty game in all of the best ways. When the camera follows the soldiers through the base as they are delivering ammo and trying to save their brothers, I felt like I was a few feet behind them.
This film is truly told from the perspective of the men on the ground. There are no random scenes of some officials in a control room giving exposition or pointless meetings back in America; when the soldiers receive some radical orders telling them to change their mission, we receive it with them. One complaint people may have with The Outpost is that we never know exactly what is going on. There is never a specific reason for the Taliban attacking when they do, but, like the men there, we just have to deal with it. I thought this added to the experience of constant uncertainty and danger this film presents, and created much more of a personal and poignant story.
Lurie also uses little to no wide shots in his depiction of this battle. While this may be due to budget constraints, it serves the movie well because of the feeling of claustrophobia. Writers Eric Johnson and Paul Tamasy take their time letting the audience marinate in the closed-off atmosphere of the outpost. Even though this time is essential, some scenes could have been trimmed a little. It takes about two-thirds of the movie to get to the action, and sometimes it can feel a bit grating, although the payoff is emotional, thrilling and well worth the wait regardless. At the beginning, The Outpost seems like a film where you experience a day in the shoes of soldiers in constant danger, no more and no less. As the film goes on, however, it is easy to feel the momentum building towards something dramatic.
The performances in The Outpost are good across the board. Scott Eastwood is truly his father’s son; during many scenes Clint’s mannerisms are so present it feels like we are watching a more modern and grounded Dirty Harry. Orlando Bloom is also in the film as the base’s captain, and even though his accent is slightly distracting he is still a commanding presence. The real highlight here is Caleb Landry Jones, who blows his peers out of the water with his work as an awkward soldier who messes up his tasks and is seen as untrustworthy by the other soldiers. His character seems cut and dry at first, but once the violence starts and he shows his true colors, he becomes complex and one of the best aspects of the entire film. You can see in Jones’ eyes the horrors of the violence he is witnessing, and his fantastic performance is what makes the powerful message near the end hit home. Jones is given the final scene in the movie, and it is immensely powerful. He should be given awards and wide recognition for that scene alone, although he is fantastic throughout. I loved him in Get Out, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and X-Men: First Class, but this is his best performance yet and I am looking forward to his next project.
The Outpost is one of those movies that snuck up on me; I don’t think that anyone was highly anticipating this film, but it tells a harrowing and inspiring true story that expresses an appreciation for our military while also making one realize the recklessness of war. Many of these men gave their lives for our country, but why were they there? This movie never quite answers this question. Whatever the reason on the surface, it clearly wasn’t good enough to put these men in the center of hell with constant death on the front door. Yes, we ended up with these brave men proving themselves in the face of danger, but all of the men’s lives were either ended or forever changed. We need to think about why we send people into traumatic experiences, and this film does a great job of making the audience think about the purpose of these deployments. In addition to that, The Outpost is an exemplary war film that delivers an immersive and grounded image of modern combat, and is definitely worth checking out on Amazon.
I give The Outpost an A-.