The post-Platoon American war movie has been obsessed with verisimilitude; not just in terms of visceral shock, but with the kind of behaviors that battle readiness gives rise to. On the surface, The Outpost comes across as a kind of exploitation flick, with the last half given over to nonstop fighting that places the viewer right in the midst of the carnage, but in other ways the movie is almost strikingly forthright about the pointlessness of the current American attitude toward military effectiveness, especially when it comes to the misguided adventure in Afghanistan, the longest war the U.S. has ever fought.
Director Rod Lurie doesn’t try to transcend his assignment. Right away he lays out what’s at stake, both strategically for the characters and dramatically for the audience. The titular base is located at the bottom of a basin in the Afghanistan mountains near the Pakistan border. It’s 2009, and already the troops know that they’ve been tasked with the impossible. The script provides us with the usual roster of recruit types, varying in emotional and intellectual range, and what they all seem to have in common is a general disregard for their commanders’ sense that the locals they are supposed to work with against the Taliban will help them in this fight. In any case, the outpost goes through leaders like band-aids. Stretches of boredom are broken by sudden attacks that usually leave at least one American dead. As the word comes in that the outpost will soon be dismantled, the men themselves understand that once the Taliban find out (and they will find out), they’ll attack with everything they’ve got. The intelligence that those in charge haven’t taken this eventuality into full consideration makes the resulting slaughter all the more infuriating.
Though there are no big name stars in the film, there are enough second-level A-actors (Orlando Bloom, Caleb Landry Jones, Scott Eastwood) to make you wonder what the pitch was, and one of the most impressive feats that Lurie pulls off is creating an ensemble dynamic that feels organic. He doesn’t try to highlight heroics and has no use for meaningful dialogue, but rather focuses on the only truism that holds any real substance for these men, which is to survive at any cost. The Outpost isn’t going to change anyone’s mind about war, whether in Afghanistan or elsewhere, but it keeps its eye steady on the prize, which is to show how men hold on to their sanity under impossible circumstances.
Now playing in Tokyo at Shinjuku Wald 9 (03-5369-4955).
The Outpost home page in Japanese
photo (c) Outpost Productions Inc. 2020