It takes nearly an hour into Rod Lurie’s stunning war film The Outpost to get to the actual Battle of Kamdesh, but at no point is the audience ever given a moment’s comfort. Lurie, a West Point grad and an ex-film critic turned director, recreates the bloodiest battle of the Afghanistan War with ferocious attention to detail, capturing the unbearable tension of what it must have been like to be a soldier under constant threat of attack, waiting for the “big one” that always seems to be a day away, until that day finally comes.
Originally to debut at SXSW back in March, The Outpost saw its premiere delayed by the outbreak of COVID-19. Even now, as the film readies for a streaming release this week, the circumstances are less than ideal. With its heavy focus on action and wide array of characters, this would probably be better suited to a theatrical release, but even on the small screen it is one of the most gripping movies about the modern battlefield experience in recent memory.
On October 3rd 2009, soldiers at the indefensible outpost Camp Keating, a place not-so-affectionately referred to as “Camp Custer”, were attacked by an overwhelming force of Afghan fighters for a sustained period, suffering heavy casualties as a result. The place was one of many such stranded locations, exposed on all sides and surrounded by mountains that gave enemy combatants a clear advantage. While there mission is to break bread with the locals to encourage peace and future projects, the servicemen of Bravo Troop know their real mission is to “stay alive” long enough for military brass to shut the place down.
The opening hour of The Outpost recreates the daily stress of living under such dire circumstances. Skirmishes break out with such alarming frequency the men barely get out of bed to notice anymore; it’s not until one of their own falls that it shakes them out of complacency. Even the constant warnings by locals about the Taliban’s arrival aren’t heeded with any real urgency. It’s Staff Sgt. Romesha (Scott Eastwood, always speaking through gritted teeth like his old man) who gets how tenuous their position really is. After another random skirmish, he takes a walk up the mountain and casually points out exactly how overmatched they are against a targeted assault. It’s almost too easy. “Buzzkill”, one of the men calls him. He has no idea.
Eastwood is among the handful of biggish names in this ensemble, along with Orlando Bloom as 1st Lieutenant Benjamin D. Keating, and Caleb Landry Jones as outcast Specialist Ty Michael Carter. Similar to Black Hawk Down and other such military siege films, there are too many characters running around to get too emotionally locked into any one of them, but it’s Landry Jones who makes the most of his time. Carter, an ex-Marine with a checkered background and standoffish nature, must put his wariness aside when the shit hits the fan and he must start leaning on his brothers-in-arms to survive.
The hour-long firefight is tremendous and deserving of a big-screen presentation with all of the bells and whistles. That said, Lurie and screenwriters Eric Johnson and Paul Tamasy are respectful, refusing to turn The Outpost into a first-person video game. Instead, the focus is on the brotherhood and the sacrifice of these brave soldiers, best captured after the battle is over and those who remain continue to put themselves on the line for one another. At a time like this when the world is on fire and the only way out of it is to pull together and act as one, The Outpost delivers that message in earnest.