In this current age, the war film as a piece of genre filmmaking has grown complicated. For every “America First”-heavy remake like last year’s Midway, there is something like this year’s The Outpost, directed by Rod Lurie. Based on the Jake Tapper book, this is an attempt to explore the hypocrisies of the Military Industrial Complex while also celebrating those working within the system. It’s no small task, and one Lurie succeeds at in fits and spells.
The difficulty here, as with many a modern war film, is tone. There is an impetus to honor these soldiers while also criticizing the framework that led them into what is essentially a deathtrap in the middle of Afghanistan. Screenwriters Eric Johnson and Paul Tamasy do their damndest to thread the needle, but the results do wear a bit thin.
The narrative concerns the fate of Combat Outpost Keating, an American base surrounded by mountains. Meant to be an opportunity to appeal to the locals, the result was the Battle of Kamdesh in 2009. It was an all-too-expected end to a tumultuous tenure. Lurie populates the film with familiar faces like Orlando Bloom, Scott Eastwood, and Caleb Landry Jones. He also structures the film by captain, each section punctuated by a new leader’s orders, some contradicting the decisions that have come before.
Eastwood is the ostensible lead, playing real-life hero Staff Sgt. Clint Romesha. Here is a young-ish actor still pinning down how exactly his star will shine. He’s got the look and the intensity to stand-out in this ensemble, if just barely. Bloom is a welcome player, an actor whose talents continue to age like a fine wine. Finally, there’s Landry Jones, a man of eccentrics who feels a bit lost throughout.
The persistent action is well-choreographed, though the production design leaves a bit to be desired. These are men trapped in a fortress of their own making after all. Where Lurie’s film burns brightest is in the complex moments. Consider a scene in which Bloom’s Captain Keating pleads with local elders, taking a decidedly progressive tact within a decidedly conservative scenario. His soldiers may not agree with the game plan, but they believe in their leader. Later on, other captains appear frightened or overwhelmed by the task at hand, causing some dissension in the ranks.
These are effective bits that recall some of Lurie’s earlier work, films like The Contender, The Last Castle, and the under-seen Resurrecting The Champ. This filmmaker loves subjects who are forced to make impossible decisions. What’s interesting then is how un-complicated the back half of The Outpost reveals itself to be. A straightforward tale of survival, there isn’t a great deal of nuance in the choices made. As engaging it is, the film becomes incredibly spare, abandoning some of the more provocatives elements introduced at the start. Ultimately, this is an honorable ode to brave men, if not a particularly memorable one.
The Outpost opens in select theaters and digitally on Friday, July 3.