The War in Afghanistan has raged for nineteen brutal years. America’s longest running conflict is again front page news. Explosive revelations that the Taliban were paid bounties by the Russians to target American troops have rocked the political establishment. The Outpost, a gut-wrenching film about the war’s bloodiest battle, couldn’t have a more fitting release date. It is a stark reminder of the lives lost, and the heroes who’ve fought valiantly for their country. The film asks the most important questions. Are the sacrifices worth it? And why did we put our troops in a place that was impossible to defend?
The Outpost is adapted from CNN journalist Jake Tapper‘s 2012 novel. It begins in October of 2006 with Staff Sergeant Clint Romesha (Scott Eastwood) and his unit arriving at PMT Kamdesh under cover of darkness. Nestled in a deep valley in the north of Afghanistan, Camp Kamdesh was nicknamed “Camp Custer” by the soldiers. The Outpost was a forward operating base for counterinsurgency. It was surrounded by a steep mountain range; where Taliban fighters could take easy potshots at the troops below. Reinforcements were forty minutes away in the best conditions.
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Captain Keating (Orlando Bloom) updates the new arrivals on their situation. The mission is to engage with the local villagers to win hearts and minds. He requests a shura, a consultation, with the elders. The United States will pay them to build schools, roads, and utilities for their homes. But they must lay down their arms and provide intelligence about the Taliban. The elders do not see a difference between the British, Russian, and now American troops in their country. They are occupiers.
The Outpost introduces us to the soldiers and their daily activities. Staff Sgt. Gallegos (Jacob Scipio) is tough as nails. Private Scusa (Scott Alda Coffey) is kindhearted and takes care of the camp’s stray dog. First Lt. Bundermann (Taylor John Smith) listens to his men’s complaints. Specialist Carter (Caleb Landry Jones) is the odd man out. An outsider by nature, he dislikes the “frat boy” atmosphere. The soldiers live in constant fear of attack. Insurgents fire on them at all times.
The Outpost takes casualties as time passes. New commanding officers come and go, some in body bags. In the early morning of October 3rd, 2009, hundreds of Taliban soldiers attacked the camp from the mountains above. Inclement weather prevented reinforcements for two hours. The soldiers, some pinned down by enemy fire, fought savagely for every inch of the camp. The men of Bravo Troop 3-61 Cavalry would become the most decorated of Operation Enduring Freedom. Two soldiers won The Medal of Honor, America’s highest commendation for valor. It was the first time in fifty years that multiple medals were awarded to a unit.
The Battle of Kamdesh was the deadliest firefight of the Afghanistan war. It is now known as a different name. The film explains why. Director Rod Lurie (The Contender, Straw Dogs) offers an unflinching portrayal of soldiers in combat. Their youth, hopes, and dreams are shattered by the grim reality of their situation. They were placed in an indefensible position with no support. Their lives were essentially fodder for a failed military strategy. The Outpost’s harrowing climax is akin to the carnage of Saving Private Ryan’s beach invasion. You will be moved to tears by the death and destruction.
Caleb Landry Jones (X-Men: First Class, Get Out) delivers his career best performance as Specialist Ty Michael Carter. His character arc throughout the film is riveting. Carter was the outsider personality-wise, but a dedicated comrade in arms. His heroism under fire is the definition of courage and selflessness. Carter’s last scenes in the film are absolutely heartbreaking. He embodies the feelings of devastation and loss. Caleb Landry Jones deserves an Oscar nomination.
The Outpost is a difficult watch in this dark pandemic time. But we cannot allow the Afghanistan War to become an afterthought. Our political and military leaders must be held accountable for this seemingly never ending conflict. Too many of our fellow citizens have paid the ultimate price. The Outpost is a production of Millennium Media and York Films. It will be available July 3rd on demand from Screen Media Films.
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Film critic, raconteur, praying for dolphins to grow thumbs and do better.