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| 9 August 2019 | 2 Replies

Written by Stuart Beattie, James Nicholas, Karel Segers, Paul Sullivan & Jack Brislee
Directed by Kriv Stenders
Starring Travis Fimmel, Richard Roxburgh, Daniel Webber, Luke Bracey
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar

The bloodiest battle of the Vietnam war for ANZAC troops seems an unlikely project for the director of the beloved Red Dog, but there are similar themes of Aussie mateship and loyalty running through both films.

The Battle of Long Tan was fought in a rubber plantation (Queensland provides an efficient double for the terrain here) between 17th and 19th August, 1966 – almost exactly 53 years ago. 108 Australian and New Zealand troops, average age 20/21, stared down an estimated 2500-strong Viet Cong force through rain and artillery barrages, relentless assaults and suffered only 18 fatalities, versus an estimated 245 of the enemy.

Danger Close focuses on unit commander Major Harry Smith (Vikings star Travis Fimmel). Ex-Special Forces, Smith is frustrated with what he considers “breast feeding” his inexperienced troops, but his commanding officer, Brigadier David Jackson (Richard Roxburgh) refuses to allow him a transfer, instead dispatching him on a seemingly mundane mission to scout enemy locations. During the ensuing battle he develops a true respect for the men he previously had no time for, as his four platoons are each caught under fire, and together these soldiers – some experienced, some as green as the day they were born – show amazing courage under fire.

There are stereotypes present in the soldiers – there has to be with under two hours to work with – but still, they mostly ring true (apart from some stilted, forced dialogue early in the setup – Fimmel seems to have a little trouble letting Ragnar Lothbrok go initially, but is convincing as soon as he does, and don’t get me started on the scourge of Australian film, actor’s inabilities to speak naturally, instead favouring soap opera enunciation – but thankfully that is banished quickly), especially Daniel Webber’s Private Paul Large, who embodies the larrikin Aussie battler with a heart of gold and an anti-authoritarian streak.

Stenders and his team stick very close to eye witness accounts of the battle – the movie was partially funded by actual veterans, after all – and resisting the urge to give it a Hollywood-style ‘gung ho’ chest-beating treatment proves definitely the right decision.

There’s a serious danger of developing hypertension over the course of this gripping, tragic film’s 118 minutes. The battle is shot in almost microscopic detail, each wave of the North Vietnamese attacks on the tenacious Aussies shown larger than life, and we’re left on the edge of our seats for almost the entire duration as the Brigadier back at base flounders when it comes to making a decision whether to send more troops to help the stranded soldiers, at the risk of leaving the base under-defended.

Danger Close is shot with such attention to detail and realism that most of all it shows that our soldiers at Long Tan – and presumably all soldiers, in all serious conflicts – aren’t merely battling an enemy force. They are up against the weather, the terrain, the sometimes poor decisions of their commanding officers, the restrictions of their weapons and how much ammunition they can carry, the horror of normal people being forced to do unthinkable things, and most of all the anxiety and doubt and fear of a life where death could come out of nowhere in the form of an unexpected bullet at any moment.

There are nods – or at least flashes of memories of the ghosts of many war movies past. Odd Angry Shot was one I kept thinking of. Released forty years ago, in 1979, Tom Jeffrey’s film was arguably the first to focus on the Australian soldiers’ brutal experience in this pointless war. There’s no glamour in this battle, only grit, rubbed in by the knowledge that the entire war and these young men’s presence there was a futile, heartless political decision about saving face rather than achieving anything.

Wash your mouth out anyone who dares suggest this is a great Australian film: Danger Close is as Australian as they come in terms of its characters, but this is as well written, well made and as good a movie of its kind as any produced worldwide in recent years – and better than most. It simply doesn’t deserve the stigma of being lumped in as “merely” an Australian movie (even though such a stigma is unfair in the first place, it does exist in some circles).

Danger Close is a film best viewed on the big screen, and with recent news that it has been picked up for North American release, there is every reason to believe it will be the success it well deserves to be.

Be sure and sit through the closing credits: actual footage of the men depicted in the film play out, providing one last heartbreaking touch, as well as evidence of how closely Stenders and his crew have recreated the time period.

Category: Movie & Theatre Reviews

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Comments (2)

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  1. David says:

    Three platoons, not four.
    The depiction of the battle was pretty good. I think they missed out on some of the real dramas – the pogos converging on the gun line to keep the ammo supply up to the guns, wreathed in smoke and littered with brass; Bob Buick’s “every man for himself” order, Harry’s “If you don’t get here soon don’t bother coming” message, Big Jack Kirby’s braving fire to distribute the ammunition resupply, the carriers coming on scene at dusk with lights blazing, one of the reinforcements jumping off a bucket to engage the enemy and being left on his own, Custard Mellor’s greeting on being found the next day, the dead of 11 Pl being found still facing their front and holding their weapons, blood washed away and looking like they were just asleep. Lots of dramatic licence with the command stuff. Glad I saw it and glad they finally got it made.

  2. Thomas Harnell says:

    ” … some as green as the day they were born.”

    Surely they had some military training before being sent off to Vietnam. I

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