by Hope Madden
Films concerning the US’s two decade war in Afghanistan have not managed to find much of an audience. I’m not sure Summer 2020—the year we welcomed meth gators as a needed distraction from our own personal hell—will improve those odds.
And yet, director Rod Lurie’s The Outpost bravely ventures to the streaming environment this week to remind us that a solid, understated war movie can still thrill.
The ensemble piece features Caleb Landry Jones and Scott Eastwood as two sides of a coin. Eastwood’s Staff Sgt. Clint (that’s right) Romesha is a born leader with quiet dignity, grit and a mind for strategy. Cynical of the Army’s “frat boy” culture, Jones’s Staff Sgt. Ty Carter doesn’t quite fit in.
Where doesn’t he fit in? A sitting duck army outpost situated at the basin of surrounding mountains where Taliban forces travel, watch and shoot.
Screenwriter Eric Johnson’s bread and butter has been teaming with Paul Tamasy to create the cinematic presentation of a true story. They nearly won an Oscar for Johnson’s first foray into feature length screenplays, David O’ Russell’s powerful The Fighter (with Scott Silver).
The duo join forces again, this time adapting Jake Tapper’s investigative book concerning one extraordinary battle in our war in Afghanistan.
Understatement works in the film’s favor, Lurie favoring overlapping dialog and naturalistic settings to bombast and a leading score. In fact, much of the film plays without a score, a refreshing change that gives The Outpost a grittier, more realistic feel that serves it well. Because truth be told, a true tale that delivers this amount of sheer will, courage, perseverance and spirit is undermined by flapping flags and swelling strings. Lurie’s restraint says, “This is really what happened. Can you effing believe that?!”
That’s not to say The Outpost eliminates every cowboy moment. Indeed, this may be the first role in which Eastwood makes the most of his famous last name, clearly channeling his father in a performance punctuated by controlled, hushed rage and squinting blue eyes.
But Caleb Landry Jones, as remarkable and versatile actor as you will find, is the broken soul of this film. Jones does “haunted” in a way that makes every other performance feel like a performance.
Together Lurie, his writers and his cast sidestep clichés, delivering instead a clear-eyed look at bravery, failure, and the cost of war.