Film review: ‘DANGER CLOSE: THE BATTLE OF LONG TAN’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

For the first 15 minutes, Kriv Stenders’ Vietnam war drama Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan seems like a clunky attempt at an Aussie Platoon. We’re introduced to some painfully familiar characters: the intense, bullying veteran soldier, the wide-eyed innocent young grunts, the cocky guys playing cards and guzzling whisky and the pompous, uncaring commanding officer. Quickly, though, this film transforms into a visually powerful if politically vacant depiction of the famous 1966 battle of Long Tan in which just over 100 Australian and New Zealand soldiers held off about 2,000 North Vietnamese infantry in a steamy South Vietnamese rubber plantation.

Stenders establishes a cyclic rhythm to the film as it moves from aerial shots and large-scale battle scenes to more intense and vicious combat to quieter moments that attempt to develop the various characters. The film is particularly potent in its combat scenes which are as intense and brutal as anything in Saving Private Ryan even though, surprisingly, they involve armies charging at each other like something out of the Crimean war rather than the hidden menace of the Vietnam jungles. While the film shows a few signs of a limited budget, Stenders has fashioned some remarkable images and makes inventive use of the setting. One scene in which touring entertainer Little Patti (Emmy Dougall) who is being evacuated in a helicopter, stares in astonishment at the jungle illuminated by a fire fight, is particularly memorable.

Within its large ensemble, Stenders and his cast have managed to create at least a few indelible characters, all of whom are based on real people. Daniel Webber convinces as a likeable but undisciplined Private keen to escape the muddy hell of the war. Luke Bracey is excellent, bringing depth to the slightly cliched character of the hardened but compassionate Sergeant. The film’s central character Major Harry Smith (Vikings’ Travis Fimmel) takes some getting used to, though. Fimmel’s creepy portrayal of the hard-ass commander at first seems completely at odds with the environment and his weird whispery voice and maniacal grin are off-putting. Still, Fimmel eventually succeeds in making him a forceful presence.

Glaringly, though, the film fails to adopt any sort of political perspective on the conflict. There’s no acknowledgment of the brutal context in which the battle took place; a poor country callously used as a pawn in an international ideological face-off that saw thousands of innocents killed. Admittedly, Stenders’ main purpose is clearly to honour the men who fought at Long Tan. In this respect he effectively captures the soldiers’ mix of paralysing fear and astonishing courage, amid the constant threat of bullet in the head. While most of the film avoids triumphalist flag waving or gung-ho action heroics, statistics shown at the end, regarding the number of people killed might be seen as glorifying an event in which so many died much too young.

Taken purely as a depiction of a battle, this is an impressively visceral piece of film-making but the historical weight of the conflict for both sides should have been acknowledged.

Nick’s rating: ***

Genre: War, Historical, drama.

Classification: MA15+.

Director(s): Kriv Stenders.

Release date: 8th Aug 2019.

Running time: 118 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show

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