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film review

Scott Eastwood, son of Clint, in a scene from The Outpost.Yana Blajeva/The Associated Press

  • The Outpost
  • Directed by Rod Lurie
  • Written by Eric Johnson and Paul Tamasy, based on the book by Jake Tapper
  • Starring Orlando Bloom, Scott Eastwood and Caleb Landry Jones
  • Classification R; 123 minutes

Rating:

2.5 out of 4 stars


There are so many intriguing threads in Rod Lurie’s The Outpost that untangling them threatens to become a more engaging act than watching the film.

For starters, there is the fact that Lurie, a filmmaker (and former movie critic) who has always put politics before narrative in such works as The Contender, Nothing but the Truth and The Last Castle, appears to have consciously made an explicitly apolitical war movie.

Telling a David versus Goliath story of a small battalion of U.S. soldiers who held off 400 Taliban fighters in an Afghanistan outpost later deemed by military brass as “obviously indefensible,” the film takes pains to avoid any “why-are-we-here” philosophizing. But it also never embraces any easy patriotism. The insurgents are treated as cannon fodder, but there’s no rah-rah Rambo-isms on behalf of the American troops. For a contemporary war film – focusing on a campaign whose justifications even the most inexperienced military scholar could tear apart with ease – The Outpost is staunchly uninterested in asking the obvious questions. It is narrative filmmaking as objective journalism, which makes a bit more sense once you understand that it’s based on a book written by CNN’s Jake Tapper. Yet a deficiency of political perspective can also result in a kind of bloodless cinema.

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The film tells the story of the Battle of Kamdesh in Afghanistan in 2009, where the Taliban attacked a remote U.S. outpost that was nearly impossible to defend.The Associated Press

Which isn’t to say that The Outpost wants for blood. While Lurie devotes the first half of his film to introducing, and then forgetting, the film’s many heroes – walking us through their daily routines, with a special focus on their exhaustion, boredom and isolation-sparked emotional immaturity – the second half is full-throttle spectacle, all low-angle action, terrifying in its tightly edited clarity. The men here are sitting ducks, and Lurie tosses his audience into the chaos with style. The eventual attack is frantic, brutal and inescapable – a kind of wincing and hypnotizing violence that only the most careful of filmmakers can conjure. In a theatre, being trapped with Lurie’s action would make for the best kind of claustrophobic assault. Watching The Outpost on your couch just feels like an option that’s lesser-than.

But that’s the fault of a multiplex-shuttering global pandemic – not Lurie’s. If we want to zero in on the actual choices of the director, let’s focus on Lurie’s curious desire to fill out his cast as if he contracted the work of an industry agency called Nepotism Inc. While The Outpost boasts a few performers who have no celebrity parentage – Orlando Bloom, Caleb Landry Jones – nearly every other grunt and officer here boasts some serious Hollywood genealogy. There’s Scott Eastwood (son of Clint), Milo Gibson (Mel), James Jagger (Mick) and Will Attenborough (grandson of Richard).

That lineup could be coincidence, or it might be Lurie’s way of purposefully, maybe subversively trying to birth a new generation of war-movie stars via the most obvious of means. Either way, there is not much good or bad to be had from the situation, as every actor – save the squirrelly but typically excellent Landry Jones – becomes part of a faceless corps of dusty, sweaty, bloody bodies. At the beginning of the film, Lurie throws up every soldier’s name each time a new man walks into the frame, but Eric Johnson’s script never pauses to give us much in the way of character. The result is that the men exit the film much the same way they enter it – anonymously, without purpose or impact.

Lurie ends his film by honouring the fallen, juxtaposing the faces of the real-life soldiers against their on-screen counterparts. It is naturally intended as a moment of honour and respect. But given that his movie never gives us an opportunity to understand who these men are, it is hard to mourn them beyond a superficial fashion. War is hell, of course. But The Outpost’s familiar refrain becomes muted if we don’t know just who is fighting through the fire.

The Outpost is available digitally on-demand starting July 21.

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