I’ve had a second look at Rod Lurie‘s The Outpost (Screen Media, 7.3). The version I saw last fall has been tweeked and refined and I wanted to savor the final final, so I watched it on the 65-incher, slouching on the couch.
HE verdict: This fact-based, highly adrenalized Afghanistan war pic not only holds but upticks. The 40-minute battle sequence (which starts around the 75-minute mark) is not only riveting but a work of serious beauty, if that’s the right term. It’s really spellbinding — there’s no looking away from it, and it’s hard to breathe while it lasts. It might even help you lose weight.
Lurie and Jake Tapper’s book aside, special commendation goes to cinematographer Lorenzo Senatore and editor Michael J. Duthie.
Crisp military salutes are hereby offered to the mostly all-male cast but especially to co-leads Scott Eastwood (his snarly, tough-as-nails staff sergeant performance is a breakthrough) and Caleb Landry Jones, who has finally stopped mumbling and planted his feet and told the truth like a man. HE to CLJ: You deserve a Best Supporting Actor nom, bruh, but don’t ever mumble again. I’m serious.
And don’t forget the sound design, especially the zing-zing bullets slamming into terra firma, humvee metal, helmets, bone, flesh.
Unfortunately Gov. Gavin Newsom has closed all indoor California theatres for at least three weeks, so there goes the big-screen immersive effect that a film like this needs. The only large-screen experience this weekend is at the Vineland Drive-In, which is located in the industrial shithole known as the City of Industry.
A U.S. forces-vs.-Taliban war flick based on Tapper’s reporting, The Outpost is a rousing plunge into another tough battle that actually happened, and is another example of the kind of combat flick to which we’ve all become accustomed — one in which the U.S. forces get their asses kicked and barely survive.
Lone Survivor, Hamburger Hill, Black Hawk Down, The Hurt Locker, In The Valley of Elah, Platoon, We Were Soldiers, Pork Chop Hill — American forces go to war for questionable or dubious reasons and the troops engaged get shot and pounded all to hell. Those who barely survive are shattered, exhausted, gutted. War is bad karma.
Lurie isn’t trying for anything more than an expert reality-capturing. He’s done his best to replicate a military tragedy that happened 11 years ago, and in so doing is telling his audience, “Take it or leave it but this is it…this is the truth of what happened.”
Tapper’s same-titled book, published in 2013, is about the ordeal of U.S. troops defending Combat Outpost Keating. Located at the bottom of a steep canyon and absurdly vulnerable to shooters in the surrounding hills, the outpost was attacked by Taliban forces on 10.3.09.
For a while it was very touch-and-go. The base was nearly overrun. Eight Americans and four Afghan defenders were killed.
The Outpost starts off with a queasy feeling of ‘okay, how long before the bad stuff starts?’ And then things start to go wrong in small measures. Then it upshifts into unsettling and then bad to worse, and then worse than that. And then the bracing, teeth-rattling 40-minute finale. And then a downshift-and-aftermath section.
A key line of dialogue is heard during the first five minutes, to wit: “Shouldn’t we be on top of the mountain?”
Staff Sergeant Clint Romesha (Eastwood) and Specialist Ty Michael Carter (CLJ) were awarded the Medal of Honor.
There’s a fascinating death scene around the one-third mark when a certain name-brand actor goes over the side of a cliff in a humvee. You’re watching it and thinking “wait, this guy never felt the tire flirting with the edge of the precipice? He never felt the earth give way?” But I really love Lurie’s decision to not stay with this guy when disaster strikes. Instead he chooses to depict the tragedy from the perspective of troops standing 100 feet away.
Black Lives Matters reps may take exception to the an African American character, Cpt. Sylvanius Broward (Kwame Patterson), who is, shall we say, a bit too cautious and “by the book” in his approach to dealing with enemy fire. He manages to inspire a derogatory nickname that I won’t repeat here.
What are the differences between the current version and the one I saw last fall? Very few. The beginning felt tighter, and a few lines of dialogue were added.