Directed by Rod Lurie (The Contender), The Outpost tells the story of Bravo Troop 3-61 CAV, a small unit of U.S. soldiers left alone at the remote Combat Outpost Keating, who are tasked with helping maintain the peace and build relationships with the locals. Trapped at the bottom of a deep valley between three mountains in Afghanistan, the division sits exposed and faces daily attacks from insurgents. Then, when an overwhelming force of Taliban fighters attacks them, the unit finds themselves faced with the impossible task of defending their station and staying alive.
Based on the true story of The Battle of Kamdesh, The Outpost is a visceral and intense experience that feels like an authentic look at the brutality and senselessness of war. A master of the handicam shot, veteran cinematographer Lorenzo Senatore has created battle sequences so intense and lifelike that they refuse to allow you to look away from the screen. Long takes that follow soldiers as carry their wounded across the seemingly endless showers of gunfire that surround them feel endlessly stressful, despite their actual brevity. Featuring solid performances, especially standout Scott Eastwood, Lurie’s film gives time to every member of the throughout the film. Although the film offers little in the way of backstory for its characters, the decision to do so is deliberate as The Outpost focuses its narrative on this particular moment in their lives.
In a unique structural choice, The Outpost is split between two narrative pieces. While the first half feels like a series of narrative ‘events’ over a period of months and years, Lurie’s final battle extends over the rest of the film. In doing so, Lurie builds the tension in a way that recognizes the importance of each moment within military altercations. Though battle scenes in other films can feel simply too long or over-choreographed, Outpost uses its time to remind the viewer that death stands above them at any moment. (This idea is also emphasized through high overhead shots that highlight the unit’s increasingly feeble hopes for survival.)
The interesting thing about Outpost is that, even though every character is named, eventually they begin to blur together. Almost all of them similar age and ethnicity, you could be forgiven if identifying them becomes murkier, especially when they’re covered in gear in the midst of a firefight. In this way, Outpost has a ‘next man up’ mentality in their approach that emphasizes the need to make use of whomever may be available. (In fact, the narrative is even framed through the lens of an endless parade of commanding officers that come through the unit for various reasons.) However, this is not to suggest that anyone’s life is unimportant in any way. Rather, Outpost serves as a reminder that, in the most dangerous of scenarios, everyone must work as one seamless unit in order to survive.
And survival is the only goal.
While many other war films focus on the overall ‘mission’, Outpost states on several occasions that their sole objective is to survive their assignment. Sent to watch over an impossible location, the soldiers of Outpost Keating have lost any sense of their mission and are simply trying to live until their assignment is over. Though the film absolutely highlights the bravery of the men who sacrifice their lives on the front lines, these soldiers also understand that their assignment is a battle that can never be won. Instead, for these men, if they ‘all stay alive…, [they] win’.
It’s this level of futility that drives the unit and speaks to the overall senselessness of the mission itself. One example of the film’s point of view comes when one soldier questions his commanding officer on the fact that neither the Qur’an nor the Bible should be used to validate military action. When is commander argues that both sides ‘can’t be right’, his responds that ‘but we can both be wrong.’ In moments such as these, Outpost recognizes that these aspects of war are misguided and cause unnecessary sacrifices of human life in the end.
Ferocious and unrelenting, The Outpost is not for the faint of heart. Known as the bloodiest American engagement of the Afghanistan War, the film’s portrayal of The Battle of Kamdesh wants the viewer to feel as though they’ve lived through the moment themselves. However, the value of Lurie’s film lies not in its graphic violence but in its message. At The Outpost, the sacrifice of these men is great but seems unnecessary overall. Though the characters are many, each life matters in The Outpost.
For Lurie, it’s the mission that remains in question.
For audio of our interview with director Rod Lurie, click here.
The Outpost makes its stand on VOD on July 21st, 2020.