By: Jolie Featherstone
Based on a true story, as told in the best-selling non-fiction book The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor, Rod Lurie’s The Outpost is a striking tribute to the U.S. soldiers of Troop 3-61 Cavalry, who went on to become the most decorated unit in the war in Afghanistan.
The Outpost embeds viewers deep into the circle of soldiers stationed at Combat Outpost Keating in northern Afghanistan. Located in a valley at the base of multiple mountains, the outpost is in a highly visible and vulnerable location. We’re introduced to each of the soldiers, including their respected, savvy Captain Benjamin D. Keating (Orlando Bloom). We are brought in close, as if huddled with the troop as they adjust to life at the outpost, attempt to maintain an on-going relationship with local elders, and are subjected to frequent attacks – as well as during moments of reflection, frustration, and small talk.
The film documents the troop’s time at the outpost, with a particular focus on Staff Sergeant Clint Romesha (Scott Eastwood) and Specialist Ty M. Carter (Caleb Landry Jones) who both went on to be awarded the Medal of Honor – the first time in 50 years that two living servicemen were recognized with the award for the same battle. On October 3, 2009, Staff Sergeant Romesha took charge when the outpost was attacked by an estimated 300-400 Taliban insurgents. With only 53 U.S. soldiers at the outpost, one cannot even fathom the insurmountable odds of the situation. During the attack, Specialist Carter put his own life at risk to protect and support a number of his fellow soldiers, including stepping into the line of fire to retrieve and provide first aid to a critically injured soldier (Specialist Stephan Mace played by Chris Born). In a truly eye-opening scene, Carter gets Mace to a shelter where the medic immediately identifies Mace’ blood type and, seeing that he has the same blood type, immediately hooks himself up to an apparatus that transfers his blood to Mace, while calling for others to do the same – all while the gunfire onslaught continues and Taliban insurgents infiltrate the outpost.
Lurie’s film plunges viewers head-first into the bravery shown, and horror witnessed, by this tight-knit group of men. The Outpost moves between typical Hollywood military/war hero movie and, conversely, presenting an intimate experience in the lives of these soldiers. The film always keeps the viewer close to the characters. We are with them during moments of vulnerability and intimacy, as well as during mundane daily life and times of combat and sheer adrenaline. The camera work is, at times, haunting in its beauty and sheer dedication to moving in lockstep with the characters. There are moments when it truly feels like you are breathing down the neck of the soldiers. The camera work is impressive not only in terms of technical prowess during the action sequences, but also in how it creates an almost physiological closeness with the characters.
As usual, Caleb Landry Jones goes for broke in his portrayal of Specialist Ty M. Carter. The real Mr. Carter, a co-producer on the film, has worked to raise awareness and destigmatize post-traumatic stress within the military and veteran community. It cannot be overstated how important it is that the film ends with a decorated war hero, a recipient of the Medal of Honor, in a counselling session, struggling to breathe and express his grief. In this way, the film strives to provide a more wholistic perspective of the soldiers’ experiences, and all the work that still must be done to better support all service people.
If you watch through the credits of the film, you can see interviews with the real soldiers of the troop, including Romesha and Carter. When asked to describe the outpost in his own words, Carter recalls a quote about how “the Gates of Heaven and the Gates of Hell are in the same spot,” thus grounding the film with stoic poignance.
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Jolie Featherstone: @TOFilmFiles