Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 01, 2020 6:06 am 
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A film that honors veterans of the US war in Afghanistan

Apparently American soldiers still fight bravely, as evidenced by The Outpost, directed by Rod Lurie based on Jake Tapper's account of what is known as the Battle of Kamdesh at Combat Outpost Keating, Afghanistan, which took place on Oct. 3, 2009. (Tapper's book was adapted for the screen by Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson.) It also seems that in this war US commanders have had a tendency to set up American encampments in Northern Afghanistan in indefensible locations. The intent was to "prevent counterinsurgency" and to "connect with locals" and "stop the flow of weapons and Taliban fighters from Pakistan." But these outposts put US troops in great danger. It's extraordinary therefore that here, at Camp Keating, 54 US soldiers held off 400 Afghan fighters in the war's most heroic battle, and did so deep in a valley surrounded by three mountains. This movie is a partial answer to the question of how they did this, since they were sitting ducks. The other much better question is why? What is the reason for US troops in Afghanistan and how on earth did this become America's longest war? (This battle took place eleven years ago. The war still goes on.)

This film, though its main action is gripping and powerful, doesn't ask those questions. It simply seeks to represent a battle, and is dedicated to the veterans and their fallen comrades. It is notable for the number of real people clearly represented with cast members including Orlando Bloom, Scott Eastwood (Clint Eastwood's son), Caleb Landry Jones, and Mel Gibson son no. six Milo Gibson. Many other actors turn in good performances, and one veteran of the fight, SPC Daniel Rodriguez, actually got to play himself. Another, Ty Carter, who's played by Jones, also appears in the film. There's a heap'a fit, good looking young men in this movie. It makes war look pretty appetizing - if you don't mind dying. This is a bright, clear, well-shot and acted film and I enjoyed it in spite of myself. (Dp Lorenzo Senatore and camera operator Sasha Proctor keep up with some very athletic challenges, mostly with the Alexa mini.)

The Outpost is full of energy from its vivid picture of the combative, F-word-intensive talk at the camp when not much is going on - except that the unit is fired on constantly every day - to the moment when finally the long warned-of full-on Taliban attack takes place and all hell breaks loose. Lurie and his cast and crew show enthusiasm in representing clearly and terrifyingly the tough logistics under fire of moving in ammo and moving out wounded men under heavy fire, while discipline of the troops remained strong and the commanding officer kept a cool head. The go-for-broke Caleb Landry Jones is memorable as a little guy who exhibits extraordinary valor, SPC Ty M. Carter. He's right next to the commanding officer earlier on when he's killed and feels guilty, then struggles to prove himself in the battle. This includes his part in the valiant group effort to save the severely wounded SPC Stephen Lee Mace (Chris Born) and carrying ammo while fired upon. Several men give blood after Mace has bled for 45 minutes before they can get him indoors, but in the end he's KIA (killed in action), age 21.

The resistance against overwhelming odds succeeds only because of exceptional bravery and commitment and outstanding air support, "when it came," as one veteran says in a brief interview at the end credits. Bravo Troop 3-61 Cavalry became one of the most decorated units of the US Afghan war. Medal recipients, eight KIA ages 20-30, are ceremonially listed one by one at the end of the film. Mace received a Bronze Star, Carter a Medal of Honor. The film honors twenty-five medal winners, alive and dead, in the end credits with traditional match-ups of stills of the real guys with images of the actors playing them.

At its end, the film announces its dedication to the director's son, Hunter Lurie, who died suddenly at the age of 27 from the consequences of a blood clot to the heart during the production. That production reportedly was already a difficult one, and then there was this tragedy. Than that was followed by the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting cancellation of the South by Southwest Festival where The Outpost was to have had its premiere. There is a weight here that the majority of pictures don't have to bear.

Those who saw Restrepo, a documentary shot a decade ago by Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington about a US unit in an Afghan valley, will find the situation here familiar. I got a strong feeling of déja vu watching the meetings between US officers and local Afghan elders - the show of trust and honor on both sides and the distrust and suspicion behind it, doubtless much deserved on both sides. The unit at Restrepo also was unprotected in a valley and also was fired upon all the time.

These men were brave, but was it worth it? A movie that vividly represents the machismo - which is explosive in the early scenes - and the valor of a battle but does not question or provide a larger context may be itself questioned. Director Lurie reports[/ that he graduated from West Point in 1984 and "served as an officer in the Army right after" but "never served in battle." If he had done so, would he have approached this project with such enthusiasm? But with the death of his son, a film enthusiast, it was all the more a solemn labor of love.

The Outpost, 123 mins., produced by Millennium Media, will be presented by Fathom Events and Screen Media in a "special premiere event" at some 500 US movie theaters July 2, followed by a limited theatrical run starting July. 3, 2020. It will also be available on demand from July 3. Metascore 71%.



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