July 19, 2020 – This gritty war movie, directed by Rod Lurie (“The Contender”) about soldiers fighting to survive against long odds at an isolated, nearly indefensible, outpost is about bravery as well as the ultimate futility of American military efforts in Afghanistan.
This film is based on Jake Tapper's non-fiction book, “The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor,” about the Battle of Kamdesh at American Combat Outpost Keating in 2009. The film opens with a back story about how the outpost got its name from a former commander (played by Orlando Bloom) who died trying to follow some very foolish orders which involve driving a truck over impassible roads.
The outpost, near the town of Kamdesh of Nuristan province in eastern Afghanistan, is located in what appears to be a giant hole in the ground, which is actually a small valley surrounded by towering mountains.
The geography makes the outpost almost impossible to defend since it cedes the high ground to the enemy. Taliban fighters often easily make their way through the mountains and take up positions high above the outpost, where they can shoot down upon the American soldiers below, like fish in a barrel.
The early parts of the movie lay out this geographical terrain, as well as the equally dangerous political terrain. The Americans try to negotiate with the Kamdesh village elders, offering economic aid in exchange for peace. Sometimes the difficult negotiations work, but sometimes the local leaders get angry with the Americans, and when that happens, the attacks on the outpost get worse.
The movie depicts frequent turnover in leadership at the Outpost, with some officers better at negotiating with the village elders and some who are not such good negotiators. The officers also differ in how they handle the operations of the outpost as well.
The story slowly builds towards a major battle in which some 300 Taliban fighters attack the outpost, which is manned by half as many soldiers, stuck in a place where death is more likely than victory.
The battle scenes are well depicted in the movie. The sense of chaos, and rapidly changing conditions is palpable. Soldiers make rapid decisions under difficult, deadly conditions. These decisions can lead to survival, or death, and it is not obvious which of these limited choices are the right ones.
The actors in the movie are very convincing. Some of the actors, are, in fact, soldiers who once fought in the very battle depicted in this film. The best-known actors are Orlando Bloom (who plays the outpost's namesake, Captain Benjamin Keating) and Scott Eastwood, who plays Staff Sergeant Clint Romesha.
This is a very realistic-looking movie about a harrowing battle, and it is also a thoughtful depiction of a war that puts soldiers at risk for what seems to be increasingly hard to justify reasons. This film rates a B.
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