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Review: The Outpost (2020)

The Outpost (2020)

Directed by: Rod Lurie

Premise: Based on true events. United States soldiers stationed at Camp Keating in Afghanistan attempt to make allies of the local tribal leaders and defend their base against the Taliban, culminating in the Battle of Kamdesh, one of the bloodiest battles of the Afghanistan War.

What Works: The United States military has been in Afghanistan for nineteen years and counting, making it the longest war in American history. For whatever reason, Hollywood has largely ignored the Afghanistan War. A few documentaries have been made about the conflict but the subject has been largely abandoned by both feature filmmakers and the mainstream news media. The Outpost is one of the best dramatic films about the war partly by default. But among combat pictures, of which there are many, The Outpost is an impressive piece of work. Showing some influence of the documentaries Restrepo and Korengal, this feature film has a vivid sense of place as it dramatizes daily life among the soldiers stationed at Camp Keating. The moviemakers are respectful of the soldiers whose lives they dramatize but not to a detrimental degree. Hollywood movies tend to mythologize the brotherhood among soldiers, sometimes becoming hokey and sentimental. One of the refreshing qualities of The Outpost is the way it shows the professionalism and bravery of the soldiers but also the humanity and immaturity of some of these young men and the hardship of living and working in a dangerous place. Fear and danger are ever present and we can see how that affects these men. The Outpost is climaxed by an extended battle in which hundreds of Taliban fighters descended upon Camp Keating. The action is staged well and these characters are heroic but their heroics remain within credible dimensions.

What Doesn’t: One important element of the Battle of Kamdesh is omitted from The Outpost. In the aftermath, several United States military officers were reprimanded for decisions that led to the battle. This is left out of The Outpost. The filmmakers keep the story within the valley where Camp Keating was located and that’s a smart decision because it creates the impression of isolation that raises the stakes of the battle. However, this isolation removes the Battle of Kamdesh from the broader context of the Afghanistan War. The coda sequence pays tribute to the injured and the dead in the way that these sorts of films usually do but without that larger context the filmmakers miss an opportunity to examine what those sacrifices were for or question whether they were worth it.

DVD extras: Commentary track, featurettes, and rehearsal footage.

Bottom Line: The Outpost is an impressive combat picture and one of the best dramatic films about the Afghanistan War. It recreates the Battle of Kamdesh in visceral detail while also providing nuanced portraits of the soldiers involved.

Episode: #826 (November 8, 2020)