I was not prepared for the emotional intensity from Rod Lurie’s The Outpost. Based on the 2012 nonfiction bestseller by Jake Tapper, The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor, Lurie’s film is breathtaking in its ambition and ferocious in its execution. The first half of the film introduces the men stationed at PRT Kamdesh in 2006 but the second half is an adrenaline rush as the Taliban invades the outpost. Lurie doesn’t hesitate to put every single viewer on the ground during the Battle of Kamdesh.
I can’t stop thinking about the end of this film for several reasons. The Outpost features some real soldiers playing themselves alongside stars Scott Eastwood and Orlando Bloom. Caleb Landry Jones gives one of the best performances of the year, and his final scene will rip your heart out. It goes beyond acting. One of the things that touches your heart and stays there is the song that plays immediately after the final scene. A tender guitar strums and we hear a woman’s voice reassuring us about the journey towards death. “Everybody Cries” is bold in its simplicity and gorgeous in its execution. Lurie wrote the song with composer Larry Groupé and Rita Wilson, who provides the beating heart with her vocals.
After his son Hunter died in 2018 during pre-production, Lurie felt an immense duty to finish the film and dedicate it to his son’s memory. What he didn’t expect, however, was the instinct to include a song for the film.
“On the base, they all had a song. It was a little dirty and a little foul, so we didn’t want to use that. The movie is all men, essentially, until the last scene. In would come a female voice that would be a protector of the men, of the sons and the husbands. I didn’t know what the song was at the time and then Hunter died and I knew what the song was. It was exploring what it means when you know you’re going to die and how you evaluate your life while you’re living it and you can go at any moment. I got on a plane to go back to Bulgaria and I just began writing. I was writing for ten hours and I was crying. The stewards were wondering if I was okay, and I had to explain what happened. What I ended up with was, essentially, a long poem and I sang what I thought was the melody into my tape recorder. I sent it to Larry, who knew Hunter since he was six years old. Once Larry was done with the music, it was time to find our singer. There were a few bands—a few popular ones—who were interested in doing it. Even some well-known pop singers.”
What is very striking about “Everybody Cries” is the simplicity of it. It’s not overly produced nor does it sound like something that we typically hear in war films. This is a song that could be sung by anyone who picks up a guitar and knows the words and melody. Every time I hear it, I think of a different type of person that could connect with its words, and this is a song that we hear snippets of throughout The Outpost. Larry Groupé knew that an uncomplicated and straightforward approach was the only way to go.
“When I got that recording, it couldn’t have been more sincere at what the message was. That was the easy part for me, in a way. There was no question what the impact of the song was and where that was going from. One of the things that lead to the more open architecture is right there in the script. We know the soldiers are going to sing fragments of it throughout the song before it ultimately comes to fruition. That led to the first demos that I had made that went to Rita that kept to guitar and vocal. As far as the final goes, I brought in a string quartet to take it where it needed to go, but I wanted to keep it open. The simple delivery is always the emotionally impactful one. To overproduce it would be a big mistake.”
To find the right voice for their song, they turned to Rita Wilson. There is something so warm and comforting about Wilson as a performer that it makes you instantly feel taken care of when you hear her voice. Wilson’s music career has turned in some really fun singles (I am personally a fan of “Oh, No, You Didn’t” and “Throw Me a Party” thank you very much), but her voice has a loving timbre on “Everybody Cries” that is both so meaningful and honest. Wilson and her family have always been passionate about men and women who serve our country, and that emotional heft is evident in every note of the song.
“The music can be whatever the music is, but when it all comes together in a way that makes sense and resonates, you can try to do that but you don’t know if you ever achieve it. In this circumstance, I really believe that. What Rod was trying to do in the movie–because it’s so many men–and the song did represent the mothers, the sisters, the wives, the daughters of the people who have lost people in war. In all the wars that we’ve had to fight. Some of them are so young that they’ve lost their lives before their lives have begun. Rod, having to go through the experience of losing his son, was too much, and I had enormous respect for what he and Larry were trying to say. When the song came to me, it was in a very stripped down form, which I appreciated, because as Rod tells the story of his son and tells it in a very matter-of-fact way, that’s what I thought the song was. If you put too much behind it, it almost loses the impact. It’s so truthful. You have to be matter-of-fact or you’ll break down.”
When we spoke in late December, she acknowledged that many people will not spending time with their loved ones because of the ongoing pandemic. She connected that with the song’s ability to face death in a way that soldiers have to do whenever they called to fight.
“If you’re a parent and you have someone who’s struggling or you have a loved one who is struggling, it has crossed your mind that they may not come back. They may not win that battle. There were some things in the song that lyrically we discussed, but the song in its simplicity was what really moved me. I’m not an analytical person. I respond to something when it hits my gut. One of the things that also came to mind to me was that in many cultures—many parts of American culture is different this way—there’s always been a way for people to grieve and mourn and have a lamentation when someone dies. We’ve lost that tradition a bit.”
Lurie was concerned about the reactions from the families of the men who died at the Battle of Kamesh. What would he do if they didn’t like how they portrayed their sons, their brothers, their fathers? What if they didn’t think the actor portrayed him in a manner that reflected their memories of their lost loved ones? It seems, though, that “Everybody Cries” is a balm that soothes every viewer who watches it. Nearly 30 people were injured in that fight and 8 Americans lost their lives.
When the families were flown out for a screening of The Outpost, Lurie commented on how he and Tapper spent time with each one, and they thanked them for not only respectfully portraying what happened but for the song that plays once it’s over.
“I’ve said this a number of times, but you die twice. One is when you leave this earth and the second time is when the last person ever speaks your name. What we gave these families is that their sons’ names will forever be spoken. The same thing for my boy. A couple of them hugged me and said, ‘Thank you for the song. That’s my son’s song now.’ Many veterans who have seen the film tell me how much they love this song. One of the reasons this movie was successful is that a couple million vets sat their families down and described that this is what it was like over there. This song is their ballad.”
“Everybody Cries” should seriously be considered for its purity and its honesty. Every time I hear the song, I am confronted with such directness and sincerity in the lyrics and how the song is performed by Wilson. It is a song that will endure as an anthem for all the men and women who continue to fight for our country.
The Outpost is available to stream now on Netflix.