Friday, July 3, 2020

'The Outpost' grips, grunts and streams just in time for Independence Day

Opportunities to celebrate what July Fourth stands for will be limited this year because many Americans can't, simply won't, or have been directed by government officials to avoid the usual crowded hooplas.

Of course, some of our soldiers are still fighting the 911-instigated war in Afghanistan, the site of 2009's bloody, but brave Battle of Kamdesh, laid out so grandly in a terrific new movie, "The Outpost." Since it opens today on various platforms (including iTunes, YouTube and from most On Demand providers), perhaps streaming it could give us all a little boost of summer-holiday patriotism.

Be forewarned, though, watching will be no picnic. It's mission becomes very serious and often wrongheaded business, the result of some questionable, top-end military decisions made there and then. In fact, one general nicknamed the U.S. base "Camp Custer," since he expected no one to survive the sitting-duck placement of troops smack dab at the bottom of an intimidating and Taliban-heavy mountain range.

Early on, the courageous Capt. Keating (Orlando Bloom) hears talk among his men about writing home and tells them, "Don't even think about your wives." A few moment later, an exhausted Staff Sgt. Romesha (Scott Eastwood) settles onto his bunk after leading his newbie unit into camp, only to read an inscription that a previous Army tenant carved on the ceiling above him: "It doesn't get better." Then, at least from a movie-going experience, it seriously does, with a mostly non-stop action surge that includes the almost hour-long, climactic battle.

Certainly director Rod Lurie, a West Point grad, pulls out all stops down the stretch to offer us his finest film since "The Contender," Oscar-nominated a full 20 years ago. One of Lurie's shrewdest moves here came in the hiring of first-time cinematographer Lorenzo Senatore.

Though the accomplished cameraman has contributed to a slew of hits, including "Wonder Woman," "Beauty and the Beast," and "Spectre," the way he puts us into the middle of the action on one hand, while making it all look like a high-tech video game on the other often moves into realms of what might be called spectacular.

Then there's the sharp ensemble cast, led by leading man Bloom; the scene-stealing Caleb Landry Jones, as a fish out of water that turns into the unit's most moving warrior; and a slew of actors with familiar names perhaps plucked into stardom by the ever-wise Lurie.

Obviously, everyone already knows the solid Eastwood, who resembles dad Clint so easily here you might think that "Dirty Harry" has gone to war. Lesser, but meaningful roles also get well-handled by two other lads with notable dads, Milo Gibson (Mel) and James Jagger (Mick), as well as a pair with famous grandfathers, Scott Alda Coffey (Alan Alda) and Will Attenborough (Sir Richard).

By the end of the day, however, Lurie makes sure we all remember a few names of the real heroes at Kamdesh, where Afghanistan's most notorious conflict resulted in the awarding of more than 80 different decorations for service during combat. Enjoy your Fourth!

Rated "R" by MPAA: war violence and grisly images, pervasive language and sexual references; 2:03; $ $ $ $ out of $5

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