Danger Close
"There are good performances made of small moments throughout."

The Battle of Long Tan is a striking event in Australia (and New Zealand's) complex military history. That Anzac forces participated in Vietnam is certainly not as widely known as US participation. Despite appearing in a character history in Home and Away, apart from the Odd Angry Shot, it's also been rarely depicted in film. Danger Close addresses both, and well.

There are good performances made of small moments throughout. A montage at the end puts cast in costume beside file photos of the men of the 1st Australian Task Force. In particular, Delta Company of the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment. Led by Major Harry Smith (TV's Vikings and Warcraft veteran Travis Fimmel), they're a youthful mix of conscripts and volunteers.

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This melange is reflected in the oddity of seeing Land Rovers beside Hueys, tinnies of VB being wielded beside SLRs and M16s. While I'd usually consider it unfair to judge any Vietnam film against Full Metal Jacket or Apocalypse Now, director Kriv Stenders invites it with use of Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots..." and several sequences defined by smoke and shadow. I'd probably count a morale performance and a napalm strike against a tree-line too, but there's qualitative differences. You might not draw a line between actual F-5s and CGI F-4s, but Stompie-Wompie Surfer Boys are a world away from either Playboy Bunnies or even Ann-Margret.

It's also likely that production wasn't as troubled as either Kubrick or Coppola's contributions to canon, Australian Army co-operation is evident in the presence of M113 Armoured Personnel Carriers and I doubt they flew off during filming. That despite the presence of five credited screenwriters, from Stuart Beattie (Collateral, and contributions to GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra and Pirates Of The Caribbean). This is probably explained by the episodic nature of events, from an opening after a few screens of text that foreshadows parts of a 'lions led by donkeys' feel, and two fresh arrivals who we'll follow through the film.

Unlike 1917, however, our perspective is nigh omniscient, technical advantage through drone and computer allowing us to swoop across jungle canopy, to follow action as pins on a map, and at one point in a dazzling arc a shell, its tail still glowing from explosive propellant, from artillery battery to contact.

There's another truly striking moment of men fording a stream, sun cutting shafts through trees as they give way to a rubber plantation, a moment of peace in a patrol. One prompted by early morning contact, a sequence that sharply depicts the processes of counter-battery fire, triangulation and the impact of the 'King of Battle'. Yet kings and battles both are the work of men, and they're here aplenty. From the Brigadier (Richard Roxburgh) to the lightest-green private, all carry off the responsibility attached to depicting a true story. As does the film.

After the credits, there's the usual disclaimer about concatenations and fictional liberties, but thanks include many of the surviving veterans and it would seem a fitting tribute. The details are there, but even for a nation as stereotypically casual as Australia, elements of military discipline and process are far more filmic than factual. There's still a welter of credible technical detail - as one would expect from a film that credits both a turtle wrangler and a team of howitzer armourers.

The action isn't quite relentless, but anything approaching a lull is an exercise in tension. From the first mist to un-expressed smoke, uncertainty abounds. The fighting is visceral, aided by compelling prosthetic effects, sprays of blood catch even the camera. Those alone would probably earn it the 15 rating, but while Stenders is perhaps most famous for two animal pictures for kids, here it's not the dog but the language that's blue.

Caitlin Yeo's score sometimes seems a little modern for the piece, but it's appositely reflective over the coda. The credits also feature Redgum's most famous song, I Was Only 19, as strong a piece of the Vietnam War's cultural as Fortunate Son or any other of a probably Spotify playlist. Liam Egan's sound team also make notable contribution, the crack and skirl of small arms fire, the thump of fire orders, the quiet whisper of, "Aim, breathe, fire", the crackle of radio, thrum of motors, the long rumbles of thunder both man-made and natural.

"Danger Close" is an artillery term, one of those rare pieces of army argot that does not sanitise or obfuscate. It means proximity, peril, power. This film has all three.

Reviewed on: 05 Apr 2020
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The true story of the Anzac's Battle of Long Tan in Vietnam.
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Director: Kriv Stenders

Writer: Stuart Beattie, James Nicholas, Karel Segers, Paul Sullivan, Jack Brislee

Starring: Travis Fimmel, Toby Blome, Alexander England, Aaron Glenane, Uli Latukefu, Richard Te Are, Luke Bracey, Sean McCarthy, Mojean Aria, Ryan Hance, Jordan Abbey-Young, James Storer, Ben Esler, Anthony Hayes, Richard Roxburgh

Year: 2019

Runtime: 118 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Australia


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