The Films of 2020: The Outpost (dir by Rod Lurie)

The Outpost, which is currently streaming on Netflix and which deserves far more attention than it’s been given, is a film that left me breathless.  Seriously, as the film came to its conclusion, I realized that I was so emotionally overwhelmed by what I had just seen that I actually had to stop for a few minutes and catch my breath.  Once I was breathing again, I started to cry.  I cried all the way through the end credits.  That’s the sign of a powerful film.

Based on a true story, The Outpost takes place in 2009.  PRT Kamdesh is an American military outpost in Northern Afghanistan.  The post is located in a valley.  The mountains, which rise high up into the sky, are not only beautiful but they also provide the perfect cover for the Taliban.  The outpost is attacked on a nearly daily basis.  At the start of the film, we’re told that one military strategist said that the base should have been named after George Custer because it was impossible to defend and that, should a big attack ever truly come, all 53 of the man on the base would essentially be sitting ducks.

The Outpost follows those 53 men as they go about their daily lives on the base.  Commanders die and are replaced.  The soldiers try to hold onto their sanity, even though they know that the “big attack” is inevitable.  Though more than a few of the men have families back home, they try not to think about them.  They can’t risk the distractions.  Even the act of adopting a dog is seen as being a potentially dangerous move.  The humor is dark, to the extent that the base’s theme song is “Everybody Dies.”  While dealing with daily attacks, the base’s commanders try to win the support of the local villagers.  One of the local elders asks if the Americans are the same invaders who have been in Afghanistan for the last 40 years.  “No,” the flummoxed commander tries to explain, “those were the Russians.”  It quickly becomes apparent that the soldiers and the villagers have at least one thing in common: no one is quite sure why the Americans are there or if they’ll ever able to leave.  Orders are sent down by faceless generals and the men of PRT Kamdesh wait for the attacks that they all know are coming,

When the attack does come, it leads to one of the most visceral battle scenes that I’ve ever seen.  There’s nothing glamorous about the way that The Outpost portrays war.  Instead, it’s a confusing, loud, and terrifying nightmare.  The Outpost establishes early on that anyone can die, an important lesson when you consider how many action movies have been made about heroes who are mythically impervious to even the slightest of injuries.

For roughly the final hour of the film, The Outpost puts us into the middle of the Battle of Kamdesh.  The film pays tribute to the soldiers who fought in the battle, showcasing their bravery and the quick thinking that kept the battle from being even more of a disaster than it was.  At the same time, it also reminds us that war is not fun and that the scars of combat are not just physical.  When a soldier breaks down into tears while trying to talk about the battle, the film treats his feelings with the respect that they deserve.  It’s been said that few people are as anti-war as the people who have actually experienced combat and The Outpost shows us why that is.

The Outpost is an important film.  It’s especially important now that we have a new president and the national media is probably going to go back to ignoring whatever happens in Afghanistan for at least the next four years.  For far too many people, it’s become the forgotten war, even though it’s still ongoing.  The Outpost is a film that reminds us that no war and no soldier should ever be forgotten.

I’ve been pretty critical of director Rod Lurie in the past but, with The Outpost, he’s given us one of the best films of 2020.

When Machine Gun Met Al: Gangster Land (2017, directed by Timothy Woodward, Jr.)

Chicago in the 1920s.  Booze may be illegal but that’s not keeping people from drinking and gangsters from making a killing.  When an amateur boxer named Jack McGurn (Sean Faris) joins the mob, he befriend an up-and-coming criminal named Al Capone (Milo Gibson).  While Capone rises through the ranks, McGurn is always by his side, usually firing a tommy gun.  When Capone finally becomes the boss of Chicago, McGurn becomes his second-in-command and a leading strategist in the war against Capone’s rival, George “Bugs” Moran (Peter Facinelli).

If you’re looking for a historically accurate film about 1920s Chicago, look elsewhere.  Today, “Machine Gun” McGurn is best known for being the mastermind behind the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (which, of course, is recreated in Gangster Land) but it’s doubtful that he was ever Capone’s second-in-command.  Famed Capone associates like Frank Nitti, Gus Alex, and Murray Humphreys are nowhere to be found in Gangster Land, nor is Eliot Ness.  Instead Jason Patric plays the righteous and fictional Detective Reed.

What the film lacks in historical accuracy, it makes up for in gangster action.  There’s enough tommy gun action, car chases, and showgirls to keep most gangster film aficionados happy.  All of the usual Capone stuff is recreated: Johnny Torrio is assassinated, Dion O’Bannon is killed in his flower shop, and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre scandalizes the nation.  Though the film never displays anything more than a Wikipedia-level understanding of the prohibition era and there’s not a single gangster cliché that isn’t used, Gangster Land is briskly paced and makes good use of its low-budget.  Sean Faris is stiff as McGurn but Milo Gibson (son of Mel) is better than you might expect as Al Capone and the underrated Jason Patric makes the most of his limited screen time.  Fans of The Sopranos may want to watch for the chance to see Meadow herself, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, as McGurn’s showgirl wife.

Weekly Trailer Round-Up: El Angel, UFO, Breaking and Exiting, The School, Running For Grace, The Immortal, White Fang

Here are some of the trailers that dropped last week.

First up, we have El Angel.  This fact-based Argentine film is about Carlos Robledo Puch, a youthful criminal whose crime spree both stunned Argentina and turned him into a celebrity in 1971.  El Angel premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and does not yet have an American release date.

Gilliam Anderson may be leaving The X-Files but, judging from this trailer for UFO, she’s not leaving the world of extraterrestrial conspiracy theories.  UFO was filmed in Cincinnati last December and is scheduled to be released sometime this year.

Breaking and Exiting is a comedy about a thief (Milo Gibson) who breaks into the home of a suicidal woman (Jordan Hinson) and who, according to the film’s imdb page, “decides to save her from herself.  Breaking and Exiting will be released on August 17th.

Am I the only one who can’t watch the trailer for The School without thinking of Silent Hill?  The School will be released, in Australia, on July 27th.

Co-starring Ryan Potter, Matt Dillon, and Jim Caviezel, Running For Grace is set in Hawaii in the 1920s and is about a forbidden love affair between a mixed race orphan and the daughter of a plantation owner.  Running For Grace will be released on August 1st.

As far as what’s happening in this trailer for The Immortal, your guess is as good as mine.  This is a Vietnamese film that does not appear to have a release date yet,

Finally, we have the latest version of Jack London’s classic novel, White Fang.  This animated adaptation is now streaming on Netflix.

Film Review: Hacksaw Ridge (dir by Mel Gibson)


To be honest, Hacksaw Ridge is probably not the type of film that I would usually watch.  I’m not a huge fan of war movies and the trailer really didn’t inspire much enthusiasm within me.  However, ever since the film was released last Friday, it’s been the subject of some Oscar buzz and … well, you know me and the Oscars.  There’s no easier way to get me to take a chance on a movie than to tell me that it might be nominated for an Oscar.  I’m a completist, after all.  If they’re going to nominate 8 to 10 movies for best picture, you better believe I’m going to make sure that I’ve seen all of them.

So, after voting yesterday, I saw Hacksaw Ridge and all I can say is, “Wow!”  Hacksaw Ridge left me with tears in my eyes and feeling totally exhausted.  This is one of those films that kind of sneaks up on you.  I spent the first half of the film thinking to myself, “Okay, this is good and all but I still don’t see what the big deal is.”  And then suddenly, that second half started and soon, I was totally struggling to catch my breath.

I’ll just say this right now: Hacksaw Ridge is one of the most powerful anti-war films that I’ve ever seen.  It’s also an incredibly violent film, one that will leave non-veterans amazed at the number of ways that soldiers can be shot, stabbed, blown up, and set on fire.  But, despite all the visceral action that plays out across the screen, Hacksaw Ridge never glorifies combat.  It never glamorizes the destructive power of war.  We may be happy when we see a certain soldier somehow manage to survive but we never find ourselves cheering.  Instead, often times, we worry what awaits that soldier after the war.  The combat in Hacksaw Ridge is so brutal and so terrifying that you find yourself wondering not only how anyone could survive but also how anyone could ever go on with “normal” life after seeing the horrors of war.

Hacksaw Ridge tells the true story of Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector who served, as a combat medic, in the U.S. Army during World War II.  As a Seventh Day Adventist, Doss both refused to carry a rife and refused to train on the Sabbath.  Despite all the efforts of both his sergeant and his captain to convince Doss to leave the service, Doss stayed in the Army, served in combat despite refusing to carry a rifle, and became the first C.O. to be awarded the Medal of Honor.  In the film, Doss is played by Andrew Garfield, who is one of those extremely talented actors who has been miscast in several films.  Fortunately, he’s perfect for Hacksaw Ridge.  Though his rural accent occasionally slips, Garfield is convincing as both a relatively naive farmboy and a man of such strong convictions that he’s willing to risk being court martialed to uphold them.  If Hacksaw Ridge is about Doss proving himself to his fellow soldiers, it’s also a film about Andrew Garfield, who is still perhaps best known for being awkwardly cast as Spiderman, proving himself as a unique and interesting actor.

Garfield pretty much dominates the film but a few of the supporting performers do manage to make an impression.  Vince Vaughn is surprisingly effective as the tough and no-nonsense sergeant and Teresa Palmer is sympathetic as Doss’s wife.  Hugo Weaving plays Doss’s alcoholic father, a man who is still haunted by what he saw during the first world war and he does a great job.

I know that some people are going to be hesitant about Hacksaw Ridge because it was directed by Mel Gibson but you know what?   You may not expect Mel Gibson to direct one of the most searing anti-war films of the past decade but that’s exactly what he managed to do.  It’s an important film, one that reminds us that war is neither fun nor an adventure.  It’s a film that shows what our combat veterans had to deal with (and when we countless men lost their legs as the result of a Japanese rocket, it’s hard not to make the connection to the countless vets who have lost limbs in the Middle East) and, in its way, chastises a society that would abandon them after the war is over.  If Doss, working on his own, was willing to put his life at risk to save 75 wounded soldiers, how can we, as a society, justify not taking care of our wounded veterans?   Hacksaw Ridge is a film that works both as a tribute to our veterans and a reminder that the costs of war are all too real.

It’s a good and important film.  I recommend the Hell out of it.