Release Date(s)2020 (May 25, 2021)
Studio(s)Screen Media Entertainment
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: C-
The Outpost chronicles the Battle of Kamdesh in Afghanistan during October of 2009, where 53 American soldiers successfully defended an outpost against hundreds of attacking insurgents. Their position was at an extraordinary tactical disadvantage at the bottom of a valley surrounded by steep cliffs on three sides. The isolated position made supply lines difficult; ground resupply was impossible, and helicopter resupply was only possible at night but was still risky. This position also made the base extremely vulnerable to attackers who had the advantage of the higher ground. By the time the dust had cleared, 27 Americans were wounded and 8 had died. In addition to various Purple Hearts, Commendation Medals, Bronze Stars, and Silver Stars, two of the soldiers who participated were eventually given the Medal of Honor: Clinton Romesha and Ty Carter. Several Distinguished Flying Crosses were also handed out to the air support.
Eric Johnson and Paul Tamasy wrote the screenplay based on the book by Jake Tapper, and after passing through a few hands it finally landed with the best possible director for the material in Rod Lurie. Lurie is a veteran who graduated from West Point, and he was careful to surround himself with other veterans in the cast and crew including survivors of the actual battle (one of whom even plays himself in the film). Lurie poured his heart and soul into the film and persevered even when his son Hunter tragically passed on early during production—the film is dedicated to Hunter’s memory.
The Outpost lacks the slick polish of Black Hawk Down, but it gains by having a director who is more personally invested in the material. Lurie was no mere director for hire, and his technical choices were informed by his desire to pay tribute to the bravery exhibited by the men involved with the real battle. The camera is an active participant in all of the action, and Lurie, along with his cinematographer Lorenzo Senatore, shot as much as they could in lengthy takes with the camera following events as they played out. They even did some fairly innovative things like having the camera mounted on a drone that the operator would hold onto for part of the shot, let go of it so that it could move out of his reach, and then grab it again later in the same shot. As a result, most of the action in The Outpost maintains a unity of time and space which would have been lost through the quick cutting used in most war films these days.
While films like The Longest Day and A Bridge Too Far chose to help viewers keep the characters straight by casting familiar faces for all of the roles, The Outpost largely eschews recognizable actors. This means that the film can be a bit confusing at first, but it adds to the verisimilitude and by the end all of those unfamiliar actors have acquitted themselves admirably. Ultimately, as the closing montage demonstrates, the most important thing to Lurie was paying homage to the real participants. The Outpost is not about the actors, the writers, or even the director, but honoring the memories of those who were involved.
The theatrical cut of The Outpost was originally released on Blu-ray in August of 2020 by Screen Media Entertainment. For this new 4K Ultra HD, they’ve used an extended director’s cut that Rod Lurie had created for a Veteran’s Day re-release in November of 2020 (the theatrical cut is not included). This 2-Disc set includes a Blu-ray copy, but it’s identical to the UHD and not a duplicate of the previous disc. Lurie has added two scenes back in and extended a third. The first is a scene where a patrol finds a baby who appears to have been abandoned, which had been omitted under protest from Lurie as he felt that it helped to humanize the soldiers. The second scene is another attack on the base, showing the point of view of the soldiers and the danger that they faced. It wasn’t necessary in the theatrical cut but it does further develop two of the characters. The extension occurs during an early scene with a prisoner, showing the friendship between two characters and deepening the impact of a tragic moment later on.
The Outpost was photographed digitally by Lorenzo Senatore, primarily using ARRI Alexa Minis with Zeiss Super Speed lenses (though a few other cameras were used as well for shots in confined sets). The Minis captured ARRIRAW at 3.2K, with VFX finished in 2K, and all of this was upscaled to 4K for the final DI at 1.85:1. For unknown reasons, this UHD release does not include HDR. (A German UHD with HDR10+ is available, but it doesn’t include the extended director’s cut.) Regardless, the SDR still benefits from a 10-bit color space. The palette is a bit more refined, with slightly improved contrast despite the lack of HDR. Black levels are decent and while there’s still a bit of noise during interiors and in some of the nighttime scenes, it’s less obtrusive here than it is on Blu-ray as the encoding manages it better. The image appears sharper and has more fine detail, with the exception of the effects shots. Facial textures, rocks, gravel, and other small details are better resolved. While HDR would have improved the contrast even more, this UHD is a solid visual upgrade over the Blu-ray.
Audio is available in both English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and an English 2.0 LPCM stereo matrixed surround sound version. Optional English SDH subtitles are included. An Atmos mix was used for the theatrical release, but this is missing from both the Blu-ray of the theatrical cut and this new UHD as well. Fortunately, the 5.1 mix is excellent and offers an extremely immersive experience on its own. Bullets, mortars, helicopters, and many more effects fly all throughout the soundstage, supporting the way the camerawork puts the viewer in the action. The dynamics are powerful and the bass is deep. For those who have an Atmos setup, this soundtrack responds well to either the Dolby Surround or DTS Neural:X upmixers—it may not make up for the missing true Atmos version, but it can come surprisingly close.
The special features are identical on the Ultra HD and Blu-ray discs, and all are in 1080p HD:
- Introduction to Veteran's Day Special Screening (4:32)
- Inside COP Keating: Behind the Scenes, Behind the Lines (15:02)
- Real Life Stories (5:34)
- Everybody Cries Music Video by Rita Wilson (3:16)
- Theatrical Trailer (2:07)
The Introduction to Veteran's Day Special Screening is a brief preface that was added to the director’s cut showings in November of 2020. Lurie gives a quick explanation of the new version, and there are also interviews with some of the real veterans who contributed to the film. Inside COP Keating is a truncated version of the documentary from the original Blu-ray, which originally ran 30:28. Strangely, the Real Life Stories featurette is nothing more than a five minute collection of some of that missing footage. It’s a real shame, because the full-length version was a great overview of the production, its challenges, and how much making the film meant to all of the veterans involved. This shortened version still gives a general overview, but is lacking more detail. The Everybody Cries music video includes song lyrics playing over clips from the film.
Missing from the previous Blu-ray is the theatrical cut of the film, a commentary track by Rod Lurie, the full-length version of Inside COP Keating, and three short featurettes: Deleted Scene Rehearsal, Song Rehearsal: Everybody Cries, and Battle Scene Blocking. Owners of that disc will want to hang onto it for the commentary and the unedited documentary.
Like far too many films, The Outpost fell victim to the pandemic and as result it never got a wide theatrical release. The story it tells certainly deserves a bigger audience than it’s received so far, and this extended director’s cut is unquestionably the best way to see it. As Lurie notes in the new title card that opens the film: “We are all very proud of our film. In my heart, though, I wish this was the movie we had released.” Hopefully more people will get to see it this way.
- Stephen Bjork
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