Screenwriters Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson present us with a no-win scenario for the United States Army in The Outpost, a stirring dramatization of a mission that somehow overcame its own odds. In adapting Jake Tapper’s book of a similar name, the screenwriters provide us with an overload of information in the opening scenes of their movie. The setting is almost exclusively Combat Outpost Keating, set in the valley below three surrounding mountains in the Hindu Kush, and the events that took place there would become known as the Battle of Kamdesh, the bloodiest engagement of the Afghan War in 2009. The no-win scenario is all in the setting, by the way. By operating beneath the enemy’s higher ground, this is where men were sent to die.

Such outposts were called “obviously indefensible” and outlawed by the American military following this battle, which resulted in eight soldiers killed in action and roughly three dozen others wounded. Tamasy and Johnson keep the action entirely dedicated to the insanity of the combat readiness necessary to track and defeat an insurgency that could be coming from any direction. That is precisely what happens near the end of the story. In October 2009, when Hamid Karzai was seeking re-election for his second official term as President of Afghanistan, the Battle of Kamdesh broke out, with members of this outpost facing down Taliban forces of increasing numbers. Any political statement about the ongoing war here is an inherent one, coming in the form of its characters’ cynicism.

For the most part, the story follows the squad from the perspective of two of its soldiers. There is SSgt. Clint Romesha (Scott Eastwood, looking more than ever like his father here), who is the makeshift protagonist of the tale, but perhaps the chief sympathetic perspective is given to SSgt. Ty Carter (Caleb Landry Jones), a live-wire presence who was once in another branch of the military before an anger-induced incident got him an honorable discharge. Carter followed up that bit of service with some work in the retail and auto repair industries, and then the Army took him. Jones’ performance is fascinating to examine as an actor disappearing entirely into a deeply moving, perhaps slightly frightening portrayal of complex guilt and pervasive PTSD.

The major plot conflict comes from the Taliban forces that surround their outpost, as well as the townsfolk that distrust the U.S. military to do right by them. It is effective enough, though simplified in its view of both the townsfolk (who only get one spokesperson in a local translator) and the insurgents (who might as well be invisible threats). Far more effectively, the movie also portrays the unpredictability of life in the outpost under commanding officers who come and go with fatal punctuality. Whether it be the first lieutenant (Orlando Bloom) who is the outpost’s namesake or a pair of captains (Milo Gibson and Kwame Patterson), the danger lies in narrow ridges on cliffs, improvised explosives on bridges or the simple act of going too far in one’s capacity as commander.

It isn’t exactly complex, but as a study of war waged with curt brutality, the movie resonates rather surprisingly. This is also quite impressive as an example of controlled chaos when it comes to the action sequences, in which director Rod Lurie takes great care to make absolutely sure we know what is happening when and to whom. The “why” obviously has a more ambivalent response, but The Outpost lives in the grey area. In the moment, to these men, the events that have led them to this fight are unclear and unfair. To them, there is no resolution to something with an incomprehensible beginning.

It isn’t exactly complex, but as a study of war waged with curt brutality, The Outpost resonates rather surprisingly.
75 %
Precise chaos
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