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On Our Radar: Rod Lurie’s ‘The Outpost’

Courtesy of Screen Media Films

Readers, you know cinematic greatness when you see it. Sometimes, it comes in high profile fare. Other times, it’s in below the radar works that need to be championed. That’s where we come in. A new series of articles here at Awards Radar, called On Our Radar, will call out the work that we think deserves an extra bit of acclaim. Especially with Oscar season upon us and the precursors underway, now is not the time stay silent about what deserves Academy Award attention. Today, we make the third subject of the column the phenomenally visceral film The Outpost, directed by Rod Lurie.

The movie is a war drama, functioning as a tribute to the soldiers we put in harm’s way. Directed by Lurie and written by Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson (based on Jake Tapper‘s book), the film stars Orlando Bloom, Scott Eastwood, Caleb Landry Jones, and more. It depicts the events of the Battle of Kamdesh, what would be the bloodiest American engagement of the Afghan War in 2009. The focus, specifically, is on an extremely small unit of U.S. soldiers, left all alone at the remote Combat Outpost Keating, an outpost located in incredibly hostile territory. The troops are essentially trapped deep in the valley of three mountains in Afghanistan, where an attack by the Taliban is a question of when, not if. Under the leadership of Captain Ben Keating (Bloom), Bravo Troop 3-61 CAV is a unit that spends their days beating back constant little skirmishes by the enemy. Among the group are Staff Sergeant Clint Romesha (Eastwood), a no-nonsense solider, as well as Specialist Ty Carter (Jones), who struggles to fit in. Each day brings another struggle, sometimes even a deadly one. Eventually, an overwhelming force of Taliban fighters descend on them in a coordinated attack, making their mission all about survival. Bravo Troop 3-61 CAV would go on to become one of the most decorated units of the 19-year conflict, but not without a significant cost of human life.

Courtesy of Screen Media Films

Rod Lurie and everyone involved in The Outpost really gives their all here. The effort in display is tremendous. Lurie has a palpable passion for the material, without question, and that helps set it apart from other, more anonymous filmmaking jobs. He’s always impeccably cast his flicks, and this is no exception. As a director, he puts believable individuals in front of his camera, allowing them to shine. Lurie himself is a veteran and cares deeply for these young soldiers, which makes the realism with which he depicts the battle another form of tribute. There are no glory of battle scenes, and the deaths are matter of fact. When the climax ends, you may well find yourself glued to your seat with sweat. Lurie takes Tapper’s account of this unit and puts you right there with them. It’s chaotic, disorienting, and visceral in all the right ways. Moreover, knowing that this was made following the untimely death of his son, Hunter Lurie, only makes it more impactful. Mourning his son allows the man to channel pain into a blistering work that lingers in your mind. It’s not just among Lurie’s best works, but a movie that is equally clear-headed about war, while always being respectful to the individuals who were on the front lines. 

Caleb Landry Jones is another highlight here, delivering a stirring supporting turn. He’s the standout performance, turning in deeply affecting work that you won’t easily shake. He plays the sort of soldier we rarely see on screen. Lurie rightly saw something in him, casting Jones in a crucial part. Among supporting turns in 2020, it’s certainly a memorable one.

In a perfect world, the film would be in contention for several nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director (for Lurie), Best Supporting Actor (for Jones), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound, and Best Original Song. In fact, Sound, given the propensity for war dramas to show up in the category (or categories, as it used to be), and Original Song may still be its best chances at a citation from the Academy. Lurie wrote the song “Everybody Cries” with Larry Groupé and Rita Wilson, with Wilson performing the tune. With how unpredictable that race always is, there’s at least a possibility that the personal work within the flick is recognized there.

Unfortunately, The Outpost has not really caught on during the precursor season, so far. That has everything to with a lack of money to campaign and nothing to do with the movie’s quality. Realistically, the film is hoping for attention below the line, with Sound and Original Song the spots where a citation wouldn’t currently be a surprise. Now, can that change? Sure. All it takes is a few precursors or the Guilds to chime in and boost this picture a great deal. Will it happen? That remains to be seen. Regardless, this is one of 2020’s most impactful works and deserves at least a fair shake, small distributor and tiny campaign budget be damned. It’s great cinema, with a heart-wrenching and person story behind it, both for the real life individuals and Lurie himself. Hopefully, the work won’t continue to be ignored this season. It deserves a better fate than that.

Rod Lurie

Keep Rod Lurie and The Outpost on your radar, folks…

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Written by Joey Magidson

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