I spotted THE OUTPOST (2020) on Netflix and thought, well, here goes another predictable war movie about lovable, earnest soldiers fighting the evil Taliban with plenty of action and American grit, and I ended up pretty surprised to discover instead one of the best films about war ever made, at least in my opinion as a civilian.
Based on the book by CNN anchor Jake Tapper, the film depicts the events surrounding the incredible Taliban assault against Combat Outpost Keating, one of a series of bases strung across the mountains near Pakistan to prevent arms and Taliban fighters from crossing into Afghanistan. It was that war’s bloodiest battle, which involved hundreds of Taliban assaulting the base with the advantage of the high ground. It’s the inspiration for a similar fight in my novel THE INFECTION.
Few war movies have the courage to tell it like it is and let soldiers be real people. GENERATION KILL did it, and so does OUTPOST. There’s very little hooah sap and “band of brothers” here. They’re just regular guys, and we see them interact with wit and the usual friendships and frictions you’d expect. They are also somewhat fatalistic, as they’re under constant harassment, the base is poorly situated surrounded by high ground, and they know a big attack is coming that they will likely not survive. But they’re professional soldiers and have a job to do, so they do it stoically.
The film gives us time to get to know the grunts as the CAV unit goes through several commanders, each with a different command style. The acting is strong and perfectly understated, led by a cast that includes Orlando Bloom, Caleb Landry Jones, and Scott Eastwood (the spitting image of his dad). Meanwhile, the unit’s relationship with the locals slowly sours, and the tension builds. When the attack finally comes, it’s absolutely savage–as exciting and powerful as the likes of BLACKHAWK DOWN–and this is where we see the hooah and band of brothers come out–naturally in the soldiers’ actions–as some fight back with incredible courage and others risk their lives for guys they serve with and sometimes don’t even like that much.
The film has been praised by veterans, including men who fought in the actual battle, for its depictions of everyday soldier life, war in general, and the battle in particular. The film made me care, had me on the edge of my seat, and respected my intelligence. I absolutely loved this one. While 2020 sucked in general, it absolutely shined for war films with the release of the likes of THE OUTPOST and GREYHOUND. I hope we get more like it.