MOVIE REVIEW – The Outpost

Say what you want about Jake Tapper and his television journalistic “skills”. The Guy can write a gripping portrayal of the events that led up to and included the battle of Kamdesh at COP Keating. The book The Outpost was among the top places on my wish-list for a movie adaptation. 

But did the Movie, released in Mid 2020 among the COVID lockdown live up to the hype?

Long story short & TL; DR – the movie didn’t do the book justice, and in a sense it didn’t do the heroes of that day the justice they deserve. But… it was mostly good, and pretty damned accurate. You’ll hear me call out the production a bit, but I want to be clear, the last half of this movie is not to be missed, and fortunately for the first half, you need the (underwhelming) build up of the first half to understand the second. 

The Bad:

So, what’s not to like about the Rod Lurie directed film from 2020? For the first half of the movie it feels like it’s trying too hard. It feels overtly gritty, in a faux-way. It tries to engage you in military day to day deployment life by playing into the soldier’s hazing rituals and routines. It doesn’t give you enough background on the main characters like the book does, which endears you to them. 

When I first read the book it was good, but hearing the audiobook took it to the next level. It’s a heartbreaking, predictable, but eerily easy to digest portrayal of heroes, some still with us and some who speak beyond their graves through poignant storytelling. It improved my view of Jake Tapper, who, more often than not, seems to be about as “establishment” as any other journalist with a time slot. When you read the book, you sense his genuine desire to pay homage to those who gave their lives in and around PRT Kamdesh/COP Keating from the joint operations staffed outpost. 

Unfortunately you don’t get to know Keating; Yllescas, or even Romesha or Carter. These four names are only the headlining heroes, with many others being awarded less prestigious awards or receiving much less post-mortem praise. The idea that the movie discounts the complex and interesting lives of the men who make up this story in favor of taking a jab at military life and hazing rituals instead, seems a bit too “Hollywood” to me. 

All that said: the legitimate grittiness of the 40+ minute s battle scene that covers the more than 12-hour period of time it took to re-secure COP Keating, is one of the best portrayals of a battle perhaps ever in cinema. It had comparisons for me, of Mogadishu/Black Hawk Down and some of the gems you can find hiding in Lone Survivor, including the ambush scene early in the movie. 

I generally found most of the actors unlikable. At least until the last hour of the movie. But not because the characters/people are unlikable. Instead I felt that it was forced that way. If you told me you liked the portrayal of Ty Carter by actor Caleb Landry Jones prior to his arriving at LRAS-2 in the heat of battle, I wouldn’t believe you. It doesn’t matter if Mr. Carter happened to be a slack-jawed, firecracker, ne’er-do-well prior to being one of history’s most decorated soldiers, it’s a cheap way to portray the character in a movie. It’s forced. It’s probably not all that accurate, and it just doesn’t sit well with those who were engaged int eh book. 

If you think the subtle jabs at the LDS religion that helped shape Clint Romesha was a worthwhile addition, then you probably don’t understand how power religion can be in determining what people will do when they think everything is on the line. After all, isn’t that the guise the enemy in this movie goes under every single time? Romesha clearly was guided by his moral and religious upbringing more than the movie portrayed. It’s not edgy to poke fun at religion – it’s far edgier to represent it as the man did, no doubt in that battle. Take a leap of faith and make a movie that talks “real talk” no matter how un-PC it is to highlight someone’s moral grounding and general world view. 

For that matter, the casting was kind of sub-par for a budget like this. You had some heavyweights, but you could have added much more depth throughout with a casting choice difference here and there

My biggest complaint is the lack of character development that leads the listener or reader of the book version to be entrenched in the story line and emotionally connected to the “characters” – real life heroes, made out of common men. 

The Good:

The battle scene is fantastically done, even if the flashes of gunfire from the hills never stop – as if the enemy combatants never have to reload. If you see this movie for no other reason than the battle scene depicting October 3, 2009, then it is worth your time. 

There are cameos by people who fought in this battle or supported those engaged in it. That speaks to the production’s genuine intent, and the buy-in that those who the movie is made about, existed on some level. 

The reality sequences, as forced as they may have seemed, were mostly accurate from what I know about daily life in deployment (and military service), even if it is a bit crude in implementation. 

It made me choke up a bit. I got a few tears in my eyes. It passes the lump in the throat test at the most basic level. I feel heartbroken for the losses displayed on the screen.

It DID mention the utter failure that the idea of a place like PRT Kamdesh/COP Keating is/was. It (briefly) even called out Military brass on their part in the failure. Something that doesn’t happen enough, in a world where Military brass can take advantage of PR power and internal legal systems to unfairly (my opinion) target soldiers based on lies, unfounded rumors, or hearsay, and court martial them. I’m talking about the ridiculous sham of a court case against controversial former Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher – though Ft. Hood’s recent issues come to mind, among other concerns. 

What’s my point? Military leadership at the highest levels don’t seem to have the same levels of accountability, regardless of how poorly they perform. As a fan of the type of person that Stanley McChrystal is (he has many redeeming qualities, which do not include his gun control stance), I do believe that many of his leadership decisions in the Middle East campaigns were poor. He’s one of many that will never be held to task for poor leadership decisions. Some errors are more egregious than others, McChrystal’s failures are an easy target for someone to look at – certainly there are others happening daily that are far worse if looked at  from an unbiased, non-body-count perspective.

Conclusions

If you haven’t seen The Outpost, it’s on Netflix right now. It’s worth watching, even if you don’t like war movies, agree that contrived dialog and awkwardly lacking character development is annoying or if you just stumble upon it. But, it is not nearly as good as what you get if you listen to Jake Tapper’s excellent book version of it. For battle scenes, it ranks in the top 5-6 of all war movies in my opinion, for its gritty, realistic portrayal and heartbreaking brutal truth about the ugliness of war and the clashing of ideologies that leads to gunfire. 

For all its flaws, it still delivers at the most human level, if you can stomach some amateurish screenplay and directing mistakes that could have been avoided for the first half of the movie.