‘Out­post’ de­picts risks, hero­ics of U.S. sol­diers

Chicago Sun-Times - - WEEKEND PLUS - BY RICHARD ROEPER, MOVIE COLUM­NIST rroeper@sun­times.com | @RichardERo­eper

As we head into the 4th of July week­end, two great films about Amer­i­can he­roes are land­ing on home video: the filmed adap­ta­tion of “Hamilton,” and “The Out­post,” which ranks along­side “The Hurt Locker” and “Amer­i­can Sniper” as an un­flinch­ing and heart­stop­ping de­pic­tion of the chaos of modern war­fare.

Di­rected by Rod Lurie (“The Con­tender,” “The Last Cas­tle”) and based on the non-fic­tion book by jour­nal­ist and TV an­chor Jake Tap­per, “The Out­post” is set in Oc­to­ber of 2009 and tells the story of the Bat­tle of Kamdesh, when a force of some 300 heav­ily armed Tal­iban swarmed an ex­tremely vul­ner­a­ble base in a re­mote val­ley sur­rounded by the Hindu Kush Moun­tains in east­ern Afghanista­n. As the ti­tle cards tell us, the base was known as “Camp Custer,” be­cause “ev­ery­one at the out­post was go­ing to die.”

With Ser­bia fill­ing in for Afghanista­n, “The Out­post” has a dis­tinc­tive docu­d­rama look, with the cam­era eaves­drop­ping on the day-to-day ac­tiv­i­ties of some 54 sol­diers as­signed to the camp. They rib each other with po­lit­i­cally in­cor­rect racial and sex­ual hu­mor, they mock­ingly say “Thank you for your ser­vice” to one an­other mul­ti­ple times a day — and they’re al­ways aware of the dan­gers lurk­ing in the moun­tains. At any mo­ment, the shoot­ing will start, and they’ll take cover and start fir­ing back at the en­emy in the shad­ows.

Or­lando Bloom is out­stand­ing as First Lt. Ben Keat­ing, a no-non­sense leader who is gen­uinely in­vested in work­ing with the lo­cal el­ders and try­ing to ne­go­ti­ate peace with the younger gen­er­a­tion, many of whom could be Tal­iban. He tells his troops, “I will con­tinue to speak softly in the val­ley … on the other hand I will carry all of you like a big f---ing stick.”

Most of the first half of the film is about get­ting to know the play­ers, all based on real-life sol­diers, with the stel­lar cast led by Milo Gib­son as the heroic Capt. Robert Yllescas; Cory Hardrict as the brave and re­source­ful Sgt. Ver­non Martin; Caleb Landry Jones as the tem­per­a­men­tal live wire Staff Sgt. Ty Carter, and Scott East­wood (look­ing more than ever like his fa­ther Clint) as Staff Sgt. Clint Rome­sha, who skirts pos­si­ble dis­ci­plinary ac­tion in or­der to do what­ever it takes to save his own men. Just when we’re lulled into a sense of rou­tine, “The Out­post” hits with a shock­ing mo­ment re­mind­ing us of the cruel and ar­bi­trary na­ture of war, e.g., when a ca­sual con­ver­sa­tion be­tween two men is trun­cated by a deadly ex­plo­sion.

The se­cond half of the film is a bru­tally au­then­tic re-cre­ation of the Bat­tle of Kamdesh, which ig­nited in the gray of predawn and con­tin­ued through the day and into the night, as hun­dreds of Tal­iban fight­ers swooped down from the moun­tains and even­tu­ally pen­e­trated the com­mand post, killing eight Amer­i­cans and wound­ing 27. (An es­ti­mated 150 Tal­iban were killed be­fore the fight­ing ended.)

Out­num­bered five to one and tasked with hold­ing down the camp for hours un­til aerial backup could ar­rive, Rome­sha and his men con­tin­u­ally put them­selves in harm’s way to fend off the at­tack­ers — and to save one an­other. All their petty squab­bles and cul­tural dif­fer­ences are erased in the bloody fog of war, as they pro­tect one an­other like the broth­ers in arms they are. Lurie has fash­ioned a wor­thy tribute to these brave Amer­i­can sol­diers, some of whom paid the ul­ti­mate price.


Scott East­wood (right) plays one of the U.S. sol­diers sta­tioned in a vul­ner­a­ble base in east­ern Afghanista­n in “The Out­post.”

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