The Outpost, based on the bestselling book by Jake Tapper, recounts the heroism of U.S. soldiers who, although vastly outnumbered, engaged in the bloody Battle of Kamdesh against hundreds of Taliban fighters in 2009. The horrors of war and the ineptitude of those in charge who unnecessarily put soldiers in danger are laid out in great detail in this gritty, gripping action thriller from director Rod Lurie (The Contender).
Combat Outpost Keating was literally hell on earth for soldiers stationed at the remote outpost in Afghanistan, a mere 14 miles from the border with Pakistan. COP Keating was, justifiably, given the nickname Camp Custer by those who served there as it was felt everyone there was going to die. Set up in a valley surrounded by mountains, the outpost ceded control of the high ground to the Taliban and other enemy fighters. Only scattered buildings and heavy equipment kept the soldiers from being sitting ducks as insurgents moved freely in the nearby mountains.
The film adaptation of the non-fiction New York Times bestseller begins with the arrival of Bravo Troop 3-61. They’re given a quick rundown of the outpost and warned of the constant threats faced at this desolate location. The claustrophobic, on-edge feeling of being stationed at COP Keating permeates their conversations.
Key members of the unit are fleshed out through discussions amongst the soldiers and not through flashbacks or cut-aways to their lives stateside. (The soldiers can’t escape this isolated outpost and neither can the audience.) Even the lighter moments between the men have an edge to them as at any second bullets could rain down from the surrounding hills.
COP Keating was set up to help the Afghan Army stop the flow of weapons to the Taliban. Its construction in a location that left soldiers exposed on multiple fronts was, to put it bluntly, just plain stupid and a strategic failure. The powers-that-be eventually decided to close the outpost but, unfortunately, the closure didn’t happen quickly enough. The Taliban launched an all-out attack which, when the dust and blood settled, became one of the bloodiest battles of the Afghan War.
Lurie’s assembled an outstanding ensemble to play the heroic soldiers who fought valiantly and, in too many cases, gave their lives against incredible odds. (Lurie, a graduate of West Point and Army veteran, even included actual Kamdesh veterans as part of the cast.) Scott Eastwood, Jack Kesy, Caleb Landry Jones, Jacob Scipio, and Orlando Bloom deliver standout performances as pivotal players in this action-packed war film.
The Outpost’s action scenes are spectacular and harrowing, immersing us in the middle of combat. Once the battle begins, the action’s non-stop. Bullets scream by as split-second decisions have devastating consequences. We watch as heroes risk everything for their fellow soldiers during this reenactment of the brutal Battle of Kamdesh.
It’s deeply disturbing to learn the degree of danger our soldiers were placed in without any actual noticeable outcome. COP Keating being burned to the ground following the devastating battle was the only suitable outcome.
The film foregoes the usual military film trope of parceling out bits and pieces of the featured soldiers at home to humanize them and make them relatable. Instead, Rod Lurie’s unflinching focus is on the men at COP Keating. The Outpost is one of the better contemporary war films and a moving tribute to those who’ve pledged their lives in service of the United States of America.
MPAA Rating: R for war violence and grisly images, pervasive language, and sexual references
Release Date: July 3, 2020
Running Time: 123 minutes
Studio: Screen Media Films