Rod Lurie wanted his new movie The Outpost to be “an immersive experience.”
It is. And then some.
"This movie was designed for the big screen," Lurie told me in a phone interview.
"Please, I'm begging you, don't watch it on a phone, don't watch it on an iPad, don't watch it on a computer."
The Outpost, in theaters and on demand July 3, is based on Jake Tapper’s 2012 book The Outpost: An Untold story of American Valor which details the bloody Battle of Kamdesh in Northern Afghanistan on October 3, 2009.
"They became the most decorated unit of the entire Afghanistan War on that one day," Lurie said in a phone interview.
Remarkably, Lurie, a veteran director with hit movies like his debut film The Contender (2000) on his resume, admits that he was not the first choice to direct The Outpost.
Originally, the movie was offered to Sam Raimi who was not able to come aboard. Raimi recommended Lurie for the job.
When asked if other movies or directors might have had any influence in his approach to directing The Outpost, Lurie says that he was inspired by Christopher Nolan’s World War II movie Dunkirk (2017) and was particularly impressed with Nolan’s creativity in telling he story.
The latter two references point to the predicament that is the heart of The Outpost.
The Army base of 53 soldiers lies at the very bottom of a deep Afghanictan valley surrounded by steep mountain walls.
In defiance of the age-old military wisdom of taking and holding the high ground, the men know that when a major attack comes, they are facing a disastrous, devastating defeat.
"They kept waiting for what they called "The Big One," said Lurie.
Lurie points out that, to some degree, the movie is a horror film.
One character repeatedly warns the soldiers that the Afghani fighters are coming. He’s accused of crying wolf.
The inevitability of the attack is inescapable.
One of Lurie’s goals was to bring clarity to the film.
He does this by devoting the entire first half of the film to the prelude of the battle.
We are introduced to the individual soldiers, we are shown the layout of the base and get a crash course on modern military weapons and ammunition.
When the battle finally happens in the second half of the film we’re well versed in everything we need to know. Setup is a key element of great storytelling.
Being a West Point graduate himself, Lurie strove for accuracy and attention to detail in The Outpost.
He extensively interviewed the survivors of the battle.
Some were on set as advisors. One of the soldiers actually played himself.
To prepare for their roles, the cast, including Orlando Bloom and Scott Eastwood, underwent grueling military training that pushed some of them to the brink of quitting.
Lurie assured them that if they endured it, they would all be proud of their work.
The battle scenes are shot in a series of long takes, meticulously staged.
In Lurie’s words, evidenced on the screen, it was all “impeccably planned.”
The viewer feels like a participant, rather than a mere observer.
The hand-held camera captures the chaos with jarring immediacy and realism.
It’s a story of courage and valor, but unlike other contemporary war stories like Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper (2014) it’s about “regular grunts out there,” not elite military forces.
The location of the film is a key element of the story.
To replicate the rugged, treacherous mountainous terrain of Northern Afghanistan Lurie scouted locations in Morocco but ultimately chose Bulgaria where the necessary extras and equipment were available.
A stone quarry provided the location of the Army base. The surrounding mountain cliffs were added seamlessly and effectively.
The camerawork is stellar throughout including a pivotal scene on an Indiana Jones-style rope bridge strung across a deep ravine.
When asked how the dramatic, complicated, perfectly staged shot was achieved, Lurie humorously said "I'm a military man. I am not going to break down under interrogation," reminding me of his West Point military training.
"But, I will tell you this. That is one of the proudest shots in my career."
Magicians never reveal the magic behind their tricks.
Filmmakers should probably be afforded the same professional courtesy.
It’s enough that we are amazed. And entertained.
Prior to becoming a successful movie director, Rod Lurie was an acclaimed film critic for KABC Radio in Los Angeles and both the co-founder and past president of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.
He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy of West Point in 1984 and completed four years of military service in Germany.