The Outport (MA15+, 123 minutes)
US Army Combat Outpost Keating was located in just about the worst possible position. It was in a valley at the base of three mountains in north-eastern Afghanistan, Taliban territory, and so not only was it ready pickings for snipers and skirmishes, it was highly vulnerable to a full-scale attack. It wasn't a matter of if, it was a matter of when.
On October 3, 2009, a few dozen American soldiers fought against hundreds of enemy combatants who descended on them during a long, gruelling firefight that was named the Battle of Kamdesh.
The Outpost, based on Jake Tapper's book of the same title, tells the story of the leadup to that battle as well as the bloody, terrifying fight itself and its aftermath.
Director Rod Lurie and his team do a very effective job, especially when the action heats up, putting us in the midst of things without resorting to overly flashy cinematography or editing to distract us from what's happening
The Outpost is an immersive kind of war movie. The film is intense and visceral with the emphasis on place and action more than on plot and character. Its focus is on the men on the ground, who know that at any time their conversations and arguments and messing around could suffer deadly interruption.
While they are there to gain the support of the locals through "hearts and minds" promises of funds and support for projects like schools, their real mission, as one says, is to survive.
In some ways this is a weakness: there is, for example, no quest like in Saving Private Ryan to provide a storyline. Nor do we get much of a sense of the politics or the upper-level decision making that led to the situation. By keeping things at the level of the men who are far down the chain of command and simply have to do what they are told as well as they can, the film can sometimes feel a little familiar: lots of shooting, shouting and running. And, inevitably, it feels a little condensed.
Few of the many characters stand out as individuals and some don't get much of a chance to before they disappear one way or another, but that lack of individuality is probably deliberate. Whatever their backgrounds, ranks, strengths and weaknesses and regardless of how they feel about each other personally, these men are soldiers have to be able to count on each other.
Several of the men are played by celebrity offspring - notably Scott Eastwood (as Sergeant Romesha) who bears a striking physical and vocal resemblance to his father Clint. A few men are played by soldiers who took part in the battle.
Orlando Bloom, who was also in the war movie Black Hawk Down, is probably the most familiar face, here, but with buzzcut, uniform and battle-weary look, he fits in well as Captain Benjamin Keating: this doesn't feel like a movie-star turn. He fits in, giving the movie an ensemble feeling.
Director Rod Lurie and his team do a very effective job, especially when the action heats up, of putting us in the midst of things without resorting to overly flashy cinematography or editing to distract us from what's happening. Lurie was a West Point graduate and a journalist before making films such as The Contender (2000). This might add to the feeling of authenticity in this film, which has a screenplay by Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson (a lot of the dialogue is convincingly banal and foul-mouthed, no insult intended).
I stayed through the credits at Dendy to see photos of the soldiers killed in action alongside images of the actors who played them and interview segments with survivors. The Outpost is a well-made, worthy tribute to men of courage.