"THE OUTPOST" — 31/2 Stars out of 4 Stars
(***1/2 out of ****)
In a time where up is down and down is up, releasing a movie about soldiers barely surviving in a war considered unpopular on both sides of the political aisle. Doing so on top of a global pandemic should be a triple dead-end trifecta, yet director Rod Lurie somehow beats the overwhelming odds and delivers the best live-action war film since "Saving Private Ryan."
Based on true events later recounted in the book "The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor" by CNN anchor Jake Tapper, "The Outpost" is less a movie about American patriotism and more a story of soldiers following orders all involved participants deemed to be destined to failure from the onset or to quote
'Saving Private Ryan," (FUBAR).
Unlike the rah-rah, tunnel-vision war flicks of the late 1940s through the mid 1960s and the largely downbeat similarly-themed movies since then, "The Outpost" is able to be a bit of both. At their best, war movies are able to prop up national pride while calling out the absurdity of stalemate conflicts which yield little beyond bodycounts and depleted treasure.
The cause is rarely able to offset the effects.
"The Outpost" isn’t interested in political dogma or falsified cinematic glory.
Also, it doesn’t exist to merely support or attack a particular political or ideological position but instead seeks to acknowledge the unflinching bravery of men overcoming overwhelming odds for what was, by most accounts, worthless land lacking in anything resembling strategic value.
No stranger to politics ("The Contender") or military test-of-wills ("The Last Castle") Lurie, in tandem with screenwriters Eric Johnson and Paul Tamasy, present parallels to the 2009 Battle of Kamdesh in Afghanistan and the "Battle of the Crater" during the Siege of Petersburg during the American Civil War in July of 1864 (superbly re-enacted by director Anthony Minghella in the opening scene from "Cold Mountain" — 2003).
The former was by design while the latter was a major strategical error yet both presented the same basic scenario: soldiers at the bottom of a bowl of earth while surrounded in a circle by the enemy. The lead-up to both one-day battles were both arduous yet the results couldn’t have been more different.
The filmmakers make only two missteps but both are minor and arrive early.
In an attempt to lend the production more authenticity than was needed, the names of close to two dozen characters appear in printed form on the screen during the opening salvo with few of them having any significant impact in the rest of the story.
The second slip-up was casting Englishman Orlando Bloom as commanding officer Benjamin Keating. An actor of limited range, the bulked-up and crew-cut Bloom never quite nails the proper American accent.
If anything, he frequently sounds Australian.
After close to 15 years of playing bit parts in his father Clint’s movies, leads in fluff pieces ("The Longest Ride"), or half-rate foils ("The Fate of the Furious"), Scott Eastwood has finally delivered. As Sgt. Cliff Romesha, Eastwood puts his inherited lantern jaw, steely gaze, ominous monotone and ripped physique to maximum use. Whether intended (probably) or not, Scott is doing an impression of Clint, but it’s a great copy, often recalling his dad in "Kelly’s Heroes" and "Heartbreak Ridge." It also helps that Eastwood follows his father’s lead by not trying to stretch further than his acting range reach.
The inarguable highlight of the entire production is the performance of Caleb Landry Jones as Specialist Ty Carter. Since 2007, Jones has appeared in over two dozen movies, mostly in forgettable bit parts, but made huge strides as the psychopathic brother in "Get Out" and most recently as a meek ad salesman in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri."
Those roles couldn’t haven’t have been more different in terms of style or approach and the role of the complex Carter offers further proof of Jones’ range.
He’ll certainly be on the Best Supporting Actor short list during the next awards season.
It's worth noting that Lurie sent a letter to the press to be read prior to watching the movie requesting it not be viewed on a cell phone or a laptop and, optimally, on the largest screen possible at night without pausing. Lurie wanted the movie to be as close to a traditional theatrical experience as possible. I followed Lurie’s recommendations and can understand why he made these requests and anyone interested in watching "The Outpost" should do the same.
It’s also highly recommended to watch the movie for the duration. Be sure to stick around for the entirety of the closing credits and epilogue in order to understand and appreciate the efforts of these gallant and unselfish soldiers – whether you agree with their mission or not.
Now available to own or rent on Amazon Prime. (Screen Media --- Rated R)
Originally from Washington, D.C., Michael Clark has written for over 30 local and national media outlets, is currently the only newspaper-based film critic providing original content in the Atlanta Top 10 media marketplace and co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle in 2017. Over the last 25 years, Mr. Clark has written over 4,000 movie reviews and film related articles and is one of the scant few conservative-minded U.S. film critics. Read Michael Clark's Reports — More Here.
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