In 2006, U.S. outposts were establishished around Afghanistan to stem the tide of Taliban fighters flowing in from Pakistan. One such outpost was a small and poorly situated camp just outside the village of Kamdesh. From the center of PRT Kamdesh, all you could see around you were the walls of rough-hewn mountains that stretched to the sky as you craned your neck back.
That’s exactly what Staff Sgt. Clint Romesha and several other soldiers did on the night they were heloed into the base. They looked up and up and all around from the foot of the slopes surrounding their darkened position.
“Aren’t we supposed to be on the top of the mountain to win this?” one of them asked. And the sergeant could only nod his head silently in agreement. There was no gunfire, no battle at this particular zero-dark hour, but there would be for sure. Some day. But that was their job: hold the position, work with the locals and stem the tide that would enevitably come.
One analyst gave PRT Kamdesh the nickname “Camp Custer,” for obvious reasons. And after a series of small, fish-in-a-barrel attacks over the following months, everyone stationed there understood those reasons.
The big one was coming. And they had to face it and stop it, no matter what the brass gave them. They would stop those well-armed insurgents. Or die trying.
The American occupants of the outpost are not perfect men or ideal soldiers. In fact, some of them appear to be frazzled, even broken in painful ways. They question their orders at times and fret over the wisdom of distant commanding officers. For all of that, however, their bond as a unit is sacrosanct.
When one of them falls, they all feel the agony. They may not even really like the guy next to them, but they will fight, struggle, bleed and even die to save him. And that never-wavering, never-relenting resolve is what saves those who come out of the battle alive.
A soldier mentions having once been a Mormon. And several soldiers have brief discussions about how Muslims and Christians both claim the favor of God.
Others question the very existence of God. “If God was real, then those guys wouldn’t be trying to kill us every … day,” one states. “God works in mysterious ways,” says another. An officer tells a soldier, “Just ’cause I’m not watching doesn’t mean God isn’t.”
We overhear a few telephone calls home that end with “God bless.” And a man calls out, “God help us all!” during battle. Another makes a profanity-laced reference to the “Lord’s work.” Someone says, “Fear wakes up the beast, and the devil comes to feast.”
Some soldiers grumble because the Islamic call to prayer rings out five times a day.
A masturbation scene (which suggested and off-camera) involves a soldier getting caught looking at a picture of another man’s wife. Another soldier is caught in an attack while coming from the showers. He grabs a gun and returns fire while naked (see from the rear). Soldiers have random discussions about having sex with porn stars and other men.
This is a movie of modern war. Accordingly, it is filled with grizzly images of dead bodies and torn flesh. In some instances, the battles are comprised of short-lived attacks that riddle the outpost with gunfire and an occasional RPG shell. But those blasts take their toll as well.
In one of those smaller attacks, for instance, a man has the side of his face blown off, a wound shown in all its gory detail. Another soldier is left badly torn and bleeding when the truck he’s driving rolls off the side of a mountain road. The badly ravaged corpse of young woman is brought in from the nearby village. And a boobytrap blows an officer into pulp while he is crossing a rope bridge. The man behind him is splashed with gore and left, in shock, to spit the man’s brain matter out of his mouth.
In the heart of the Kamdesh attack, however, the explosive destruction is ratcheted up a hundred-fold. Some 400 men attack the outpost with automatic rifles, RPGs and mortars. And though the 50 men in camp fight back with high caliber weapons they are quickly overwhelmed by a constant, vicious storm of bullets and explosives.
The camp itself is shredded by huge detonations and set ablaze. And the soldiers are brutally torn and left to bleed out. We see splattering headshots at a distance and up close. Men are shot in cover and out, leaving behind large torso and flank wounds and a variety of other less-deadly wounds.
In turn, the attackers are hit by large bombs dropped from tardy support aircraft, which blow up large groups of men. Dead bodies are strewn everywhere. All the while, the camera watches closely in the heated, bloody action. The men left standing struggle to save their comrades in whatever way they can—including running an IV directly from their own arm into a badly bleeding comrade.
The soldiers discuss the randomness of battle, nothing that even the most prepared and seasoned fighter can fall at a moment’s notice. They talk of some that have fallen in unexpected ways.
The language here is, if anything, even more raw than the gory imagery. In fact, the f-word fills in for a noun, verb and adjective in nearly every sentence spoken. There are north of 300 f-words, some 50 s-words and five to 10 uses each of the words “d–n,” “b–ch,” “co–suckers,” as well as various crudities referencing male and female genitalia. The n-word shows up several times along with a crude use of “spook.” And God’s and Jesus’ names are maligned nearly 20 times total (with God always being combined with “d–n” and Jesus being combined with the f-word once). Someone uses an offensive hand gesture.
Many of the soldiers smoke cigarettes, both in and out of conflict. Someone talks of once drinking carpet cleaner in an aborted suicide attempt. The outpost captain talks sternly to a soldier about his drug abuse. The man balks at the idea, but the captain retorts: “You’re not the only one who came here with substance abuse issues. But you’re the only one who persists!”
The outpost officers work diligently to form trusting relationships with the local elders, but they’re repeatedly betrayed and lied to by those same tribesmen. Because of the difficulty of their violent job in a violent land, soldiers are encouraged by some to isolate themselves and not call home to their wives.
The Outpost isn’t what you’d call a typical war movie. It doesn’t deliver some things you’d normally expect.
It doesn’t, for instance, tug at your heartstrings with intimate performances or dazzle with witty dialogue and stirring inspirational speeches. This is not a film that romanticizes war with any nationalistic bravado, nor does it disdain the cause of its conflict. It’s far more straightforward than that.
The Outpost is simply … war.
After brief introductions of rather interchangeable warriors—who fraternize with incredibly foul-mouthed jibes and jokes one minute, then dive for cover with hair-trigger intensity the next—this flick leads us into the battle at its core. We wade into an earnest, 40-minute recreation of one of the deadliest clashes between American and Taliban forces in the Afghanistan war. Forty minutes of grit, grief and gushing wounds as 50 U.S. soldiers struggle to hold off a swarm of hundreds of heavily armed attackers: an attack we’re told would happen from the film’s first moments.
The Outpost lauds real-world, self-sacrificial bravery here, to be sure. And you can’t walk away without being struck by the true terrors of high-powered military conflict. You understand why a man can suffer down deep from such experiences, and you can’t help but lament the fact that we’d ever put one through it
Gaining that insight, though, comes with its own slice of pain. And that’s what you can expect from this not-so-typical war movie.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.