CALLERI: ‘The Outpost’ captures the fog of war through the eyes of its young soldiers

Screen MediaAmerican soldiers face an uphill battle in Afghanistan in “The Outpost."

Director Rod Lurie is an interesting fellow. He’s a West Point graduate, who served in the U. S. Army for four years as an air defense artillery office. His father is the internationally famous political cartoonist, Ranan Lurie.

The first stage of Rod’s non-military career consisted of writing freelance movie reviews for a variety of publications and media outlets, mostly for “Los Angeles” magazine and the L.A. radio station, KABC.

As a film critic, he was an especially vehement and stridently vocal adherent of the first amendment to the United States Constitution, which establishes a free press. He literally wrote and spoke in a scorched-earth style. He took no prisoners. He antagonized Hollywood as few critics have.

Lurie began to write screenplays and eventually succeeded in 2000 with an excellent political drama called “The Contender,” which stars Jeff Bridges as the U. S. President and Joan Allen as a woman under consideration for the vice-presidency, and which Lurie directed.

I’ve met Lurie and have talked to him about his “The Last Castle,” the 2001 military prison mutiny movie for which he directed Robert Redford, James Gondalfini, Mark Ruffalo, and Delroy Lindo. He then wrote and directed “Nothing But The Truth,” a very good 2008 drama about the CIA and a reporter refusing to reveal her story sources. It stars Kate Beckinsale, Matt Dillon, Angela Bassett, Alan Alda, and Vera Farmiga.

Lurie’s version of “Straw Dogs,” which is his 2011 remake of Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 film of the same name about a family under siege in their home, lacked a reason for being. He has also completed other movie and television work.

Lurie’s new feature, “The Outpost,” draws from CNN correspondent Jake Tapper’s bestseller, “The Outpost: An Untold Story Of American Valor,” which many critics, readers, and members of the military consider to be the finest book written about America’s long stay in Afghanistan.

Drawing on his knowledge of the U.S. Army, journalism, war movies (both action and existential), and his innate understanding of the camaraderie that exists among soldiers, Lurie has crafted one of the best action films you may see during this truly unprecedented era of streaming and digital options.

“The Outpost” is as close as non-combatants may ever get to the mayhem, fear, and bravery of fighting for one’s life under grueling circumstances in the deadliest conditions in today’s military environment.

This is a movie that makes danger palpable. It doesn’t matter what your politics or philosophy about war are. The film is so well-constructed that you can’t help but be swept up by the fierce action. You will feel a fervent desire, a tension-filled hope for the survival of men you have only just met.

Lurie, along with his screenwriters Eric Johnson and Paul Tamasay, have crafted something remarkable. They’ve captured the essence of this statement by General George S. Patton: “Wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men. It is the spirit of men who follow and of the man who leads that gains the victory.”

War isn’t pretty and it isn’t pleasant. It’s horrid. “The Outpost” quietly and carefully draws you in and never lets go.

The film is about the Battle Of Kamdesh in Afghanistan, a bloody firefight, which took place on October 3, 2009. In an area of the country in which no base should have been established, dozens of American soldiers, along with some Afghan allies, came under the attack of an estimated 400 Taliban fighters.

In a forested area, surrounded by mountains, the terrain was more trap than secure location. U.S. soldiers had to defend Combat Outpost Keating (COK) at a cost of their own lives and weaponry.

Lurie unobtrusively includes the expected tropes you’d find in many war movies, albeit colored by the necessary nature of the length of America’s involvement in Afghanistan, which, by 2009, was eight years.

Americans already at COK meet new additions to their team. There’s an esprit d’corps that’s evident. Concerns about where the base is located rise up. They talk about mundane things and American memories they miss. They also wonder, can they trust the Afghani trainees who may have to fight with them? A sense that they are being watched at every moment builds tension.

“The Outpost” succeeds on many levels. The vivid cinematography by Lorenzo Senatore, an Italian born in London, but who was taught photography in Rome, is flawless; the sun beats down through a haze of foreboding. Michael J. Duthie’s razor sharp film editing is properly relentless during the main battle.

Lurie has gathered together a solid group of actors, including Orlando Bloom, Scott Eastwood (Clint’s son), Caleb Landry Jones, Cory Hardrict, Milo Gibson (Mel’s son), and Jack Kesy. One soldier’s shock at losing a friend early-on is a powerful moment.

The director uses informative titles and name identifiers to keep time, place, and personnel front and center in the audience’s mind. Yesterday’s squad captain is sure to be replaced by a fresher face.

It’s genuinely unfortunate that “The Outpost” can’t be watched in a theater on a big screen, especially during its bravura closing 40 minutes. Therefore, create your proper space at home. Take no breaks during its fast-paced 123-minutes.

The movie, suitable for adults and all teenagers, is available through Video On Demand from cable systems, as well as Vudu.

   

Michael Calleri reviews films for the Niagara Gazette and the CNHI news network. Contact him at moviecolumn@gmail.com.

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