Any attacker would automatically have the high-ground advantage and just about every day at this station, which was established as a peacekeeping outreach program between the U.S. military and the locals, the soldiers manning the base endured a few minutes of gunfire. The Taliban's scouting attacks became as commonplace as the sunrise and were treated as almost banal occurrences despite how lethal these skirmishes could be.Yes, those assigned to Combat Outpost Keating were aware of its reputation. Commanding officers who were flown in knew the area's high mortality rate for the oft-targeted captains. The soldiers knew that the camp itself was at the bottom of a kill-zone cauldron and that air support was at least two hours away. The Outpost, as a story, nicely draws us into a large ensemble, who you at first think will all too easily blend together into nebulous characters, and shows us a battalion that's, bottom line, just trying to survive the day-to-day. While their superiors focus on respectful (and mostly fruitless) sit-downs with local tribal elders, the men band together as possible "short-timers," knowing that no matter how good any of them are they could be taken out at any time.
There's an episodic nature to The Outpost that really works well. Perhaps stemming from Lurie's TV shows, like Commander in Chief and Line of Fire, the film traverses several months in these soldiers' lives, giving us quick hits of their daily routine and big bursts of some of their more violent encounters. Not only does it work as a nice build to the final 20 to 30 minutes of the movie, which is the superbly-executed Battle of Kamdesh sequence, but it's also the best way to utilize a large cast and give most everyone a scene or two to help them stand out.When the film starts, it generously gives you everyone's name, though no one is expected to instantly memorize them all. In fact, it's such a daunting amount of names that you might worry you'll never get the hang of them. But, as mentioned, the movie works very hard, presumedly because this is based on a true story (where one of the surviving soldiers is even playing himself), to make everyone feel important and utilized. That's not to say the movie doesn't focus on some more than others, as there are a few "main" characters, but everyone still feels like they're part of the larger puzzle.
Scott Eastwood and Caleb Landry Jones are the standouts here, whereas Orlando Bloom is good but also kind of a larger-name cameo. Eastwood, who can't help but give off Clint vibes, delivers a very engaging and urgent performance as Staff Sergeant Romesha while Caleb Landry Jones uses his inherent oddball qualities to bring Specialist Carter to life, as an angry man who doesn't fit in with the rest of his squad. Bloom, mentioned previously, doesn't quite have the screen time the film's poster might suggest while a similar brief pop-in worth mentioning involves another famous actor's son, Milo Gibson.
Because of The Outpost's segmented quality it feels similar, in some ways, to Full Metal Jacket. Unlike that movie though, which spotlights Kubrick's trademark objectivity and distance, The Outpost succeeds in portraying a realistic camaraderie among the cast. It's not "cinema verite," but there's a wonderful naturalness to a lot of the dialogue and exchanges. And then all of that feeds into the emotional stakes of the firefights. And by the time you get to the big finish, which features a handful of "oners" and impressive tracking shots to bring us into the battle, you're on the edge of your seat because you care about the collective.
The Outpost is a cleverly, and respectfully, crafted war film that uses a segmented, episodic approach to help you invest in the characters while building up to a very impressive battle sequence. It has notable main characters but the way the narrative is constructed no one in the large cast feels sidelined or marginalized.
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