There's a moment early in "The Outpost" which really demonstrates the difficult position that U.S. troops had defending their remote combat base in Afghanistan. The camera looks up at an American soldier and rotates around him as he contemplates the towering mountains that surround the outpost on all sides. You don't have to be a military genius to understand that defenders always want the high ground, and in this situation, that advantage belonged to the Taliban, who were streaming in from Pakistan only 14 miles away.
"The Outpost" tells the gripping true story of the 2009 Battle of Kamdesh, when more than 300 Taliban attacked 54 U.S. troops, plus their Afghan and Latvian colleagues. In the end, the bravery displayed would result in 21 Bronze Stars, 9 Silver Stars and 2 Medals of Honor.
Based on the book, "The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor" by CNN anchor Jake Tapper, the film was written by Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson ("The Fighter" and "Patriots Day").
Director (and West Point graduate) Rod Lure ("The Castle" and "The Contender") quickly creates a sense of the extreme danger of the soldiers' daily existence. The men constantly face sniper fire, not just on patrol, but also inside their base. The unnerving sound of bullets whizzing by keeps everyone -- including the audience -- on edge. When larger attacks happen, they are sudden and brutal.
The isolation of the troops is demonstrated when the soldiers line up for time on a satellite phone. Those calls sometimes result in atypical conversations with loved ones: "My job is to take care of the bad guys. To find them and kill them, sweetie."
Lurie has populated his film with an excellent cast that includes Scott Eastwood as a take-charge sergeant who is instrumental in rallying the troops. Also noteworthy is Caleb Landry Jones ("Thee Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri") as a specialist whose actions earned him the second Medal of Honor that day. Orlando Bloom appears in a short but key role and is nearly unrecognizable, playing a popular American officer for whom the base is named.
The first part of the movie introduces a multitude of characters and it takes a little while for them to be properly defined. Confusing military acronyms are also flying left and right and could have used some explanation.
Where the film really shines is with the lengthy attack scene. It's one of the most intense and dramatic sequences since the opening of "Saving Private Ryan."
Lurie has his cameras inside an armored vehicle with trapped troops, running alongside a soldier desperately trying to deliver more ammo, and peering around corners as the Taliban gets inside the wire. The chaos and size of the invasion is brought home by the multitude of constant muzzle flashes that light up from the mountains around the embattled base.
While the film raises the issues of unwise and tragic decisions from higher-ups that put people in unnecessary peril, the end result is something else: A very dramatic and inspiring movie that depicts the actions of some real heroes who battled back against a seemingly unwinnable situation. Do stick around for the final credits.
4 ½ stars out of 5