Producers: Paul Merryman, Paul Tamasy, Marc Frydman, Jeffrey Greenstein, Jonathan Yunger and Les Weldon Director: Rod Lurie Screenplay: Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson Cast: Scott Eastwood, Caleb Landry Jones, Orlando Bloom, Jack Kesy, Cary Hardrict, Milo Gibson, Jacob Scipio, Taylor John Smith, James Jagger, Jonathan Yunger, Alexander Arnold, George Arvidson, Will Attenborough, Chris Born, Ernest Cavazos, Scott Alda Coffey, Jack Devos, Sharif Dorani, Henry Hughes, James Jagger, Jack Kalian, Bobby Lockwood, Kwame Patterson, Daniel Rodriguez, Alfie Stewart, Trey Tucker and Brandon Wengrzynek Distributor: Screen Media
The battle of Kamdesh occurred on October 3, 2009 at American Combat Outpost Keating, located in a valley of the Hindu Kush mountain range in the far eastern Afghan province of Nuristan. The remote outpost had been created in 2006 to disrupt supply lines from neighboring Pakistan, and took its name from Benjamin Keating, an officer killed in combat operations near the camp late that year.
The outpost frequently came under fire from Taliban snipers, but on October 3 it, and a nearby observation post, were attacked by a large force. The camp was nearly overrun but its defenders—mostly Americans, but with Afghan and Latvian complements, were ultimately successful in fending off the enemy at a cost of eight dead and twenty-seven wounded. It was quickly evacuated and bombed to destroy munitions left behind. Most of the American company (Bravo Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment) were awarded decorations—among them the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star and the Distinguished Service Cross—and two, Staff Sergeants Clinton Romesha and Ty Carter, were awarded the Medal of Honor. Four officers in the chain of command were admonished for failure to sufficiently protect the base; their names were not made public.
Rod Lurie’s film, adapted by Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson from a 2012 book by CNN newsman Jake Tapper and shot in an abandoned quarry in Bulgaria, is a viscerally intense recreation of the horrendous thirteen-hour battle, preceded by an equally immersive portrayal of life at the grim outpost in the months preceding it. Lurie, production designer P. Erik Carlson, cinematographer Lorenzo Senatore and editor Michael J. Duthie capture the feel of life among a bunch of testosterone-fueled soldiers in such a claustrophobic and dangerous setting, and when, after the initial hour of prologue is shattered by the hail of incoming fire, they take us into the thick of battle with white-hot intensity. Larry Groupé’s score adds to the propulsive power.
The acting may be more utilitarian than emotive, but it suits the ultra-realistic mode Lurie aims to achieve. Orlando Bloom anchors the first half of the film as Lieutenant Keating, who is shown negotiating with village elders for their help in tamping down Taliban activity by pledging American aid in local modernization and security protection.
In the latter stages, however, Scott Eastwood and Caleb Landry Jones dominate as Romesha and Carter, who take on leadership roles among the troops after Keating’s death. When the actual battle starts, their importance in marshaling the men to resist what seem to be impossible odds (the number of Taliban fighters is estimated to have been four hundred, and their placement amid the rocky crags surrounding the base gave them a tactical advantage) is clear, but in the rush and confusion of combat the other men whom we’ve encountered more fleetingly make their briefer appearances telling. (Some of the survivors actually play themselves, adding to the sense of authenticity.)
Gritty and tense, “The Outpost” is not an easy film to watch; the level of violence is extreme, and the combat footage harrowing, But it is neither a flag-waving celebration nor a crude denunciation of a strategic policy that in retrospect seems to have been disastrously ill-conceived. Rather it is a compelling portrayal of the desperate heroism of fallible, confused men struggling to extricate themselves and their comrades from what seems an inevitable disaster.
The reminiscences of survivors that accompany the final credits should not be missed; their humility and restraint accentuate the simple devotion to duty and camaraderie that animated those who participated in one of the bloodiest engagements of the seemingly endless war in Afghanistan.