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The Outpost

A cliché-riddle set-up is nulled by a gripping final battle

War movies are a hard endeavor to pull off. One can easily fall into a certain one-sidedness in the telling of the narrative, or risk glorifying violence, or even making the events seem to cartoony, not bringing justice to the horror that war actually is. Recently it’s been even harder to make films about current wars, such as the one in Afghanistan, because they are still very fresh and personal in people’s minds. There have been grossly propagandistic affairs like 12 Strong (2018) or others that oversimplified conflicts like 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016) (albeit that last one about the conflict in Libya). However, there have been successful portrayals of modern warfare, most notably in Black Hawk Down (2001) and The Hurt Locker (2008), and these were the roadmaps that The Outpost (2020) had to follow.

The Outpost is the true story of an extremely dangerous military outpost in northern Afghanistan. This US military post was at the bottom of a valley surrounded by mountains, as if it were the bottom of a cup. This made it prime territory to be ambushed from above constantly by the Taliban. The film looks at a group of soldiers in 2009, where there was a final conflict.

The film is adapted from a non-fiction book by CNN reporter Jake Tapper. Director Rod Lurie seems to want to be incredibly loyal to his source material to a certain fault. In a book one can give many examples and describe certain situations in order to illustrate a larger picture. However, when making a film, you don’t have the luxury of being flexible with descriptions, one has to be very literal visually and craft wholesome scenes. Lurie seemed to be at a loss in this adaptation, using too much text on screen showcasing what the names of certain sections of the outpost (that appear completely unnecessary and even confusing to viewers) and an endless list of the names of each of the soldiers, showing up next to them whenever they appear on screen. While this is all well for honoring the technicalities of the military and honoring the real names of the soldiers, in a film, one has to look for ways to tell such a story visually. Otherwise viewers were left feeling slightly dizzy, trying to follow dialogue, the visual story, as well as reading completely different material on screen.

Because of this sprawling loyalty to so many soldiers, the characterization that is meant to happen in the first half of the film is barely effective. Lurie wants to follow and honor each and every one of the soldiers so that as a viewer you are never able to attach yourself or even differentiate any of them. This makes the ensuing battles and deaths have much less of an impact. However, when the film hunkers down for the final 40 minutes that are the final battle, Lurie tightens his grip.

The final battle is handled and balanced in an admirable way, without getting too cheesy with its action, and slowly letting us feel the weight and danger of the situation. This is helpfully achieved with some expert cinematography that isn’t afraid of holding shots or tracking is characters for quite a while; and it is also done with some complex editing that smoothly jumps between the scattered troops on the outpost, without losing rhythm or its viewers’ comprehension. These 40 minutes remind one of the expert elongated battle that Ridley Scott achieved in Black Hawk Down, for its tension and ability to make viewers understand the geography of the “battlefield.” However, Black Hawk Down was able to craft its characters more effectively, so that you were in actual dread of something happening to them. The Outpost’s set up is so riddled with cliched war-movie tropes and its sprawled cast-list that the finale doesn’t have the gut-punch that Lurie perhaps desired. Only actor Caleb Landry Jones, is able to imbue the controlled panic and fear that his character feels in the film, enough to immerse viewers sans dialogue into his character’s plight. It is a true testament to this underrated actor’s ability, and it helps bring some weight to The Outpost in the end.

Overall, The Outpost proves to be a well-intentioned war film that spends too much runtime doing a book’s job. The film finally learns that its value is in the visual capabilities, and the narrative imbalance somewhat neutralizes itself. This, unfortunately, leaves a mellower film than the narrative and real-life soldiers deserved.


About Young Critic

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I've been writing on different version of this website since February of 2013. I originally founded the website through a film-buff phase in high-school, but it has since continued through college and into my adult life. Young Critic may be getting older, but the love and passion for film is forever young. 

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