Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan

 

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108 Australians fight for their lives in the year’s best-looking Vietnam war epic

   
Danger Close

  

In August of 1966, the Viet Cong claimed a massive victory over the People's Army of Vietnam outside the commune of Long Tân. Yet in Kriv Stenders' ambitious Australian recreation, the Vietnamese presence is virtually non-existent, while the victory belongs to the Aussies. Either way, it was the equivalent of a fight between a one-legged man with his arms tied behind his back and a seemingly endless stream of suicidal North Vietnamese. What we do learn is that the average age of the Australian grunt was twenty and that they were conscripted to fight to aid the Americans and the South Vietnamese. At Long Tân, 108 members of Delta Company, of the Royal Australian Regiment – fighting for “Queen and Country” – held back a relentless force of 2,000 Viet Cong (or 2,500, by some estimates). In war, it’s hard to ascertain who the true victor is, but the Aussies certainly put up a jolly good show, particularly as so many of them had never seen combat before.

 

Danger Close is a very one-sided take on events and the title does not bode well. It has none of the poetic grandeur of Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket or even the succinct efficiency of Platoon. To be frank, its moniker signposts the immediacy of B-movie mediocrity. As does the appearance of some of the best-looking military personnel this side of a Chippendale convention. Top hunk is Major Harry Smith, a ball-busting, translucent-eyed male model played by Travis Fimmel, who looks like a beefed-up Channing Tatum, if that is possible. Sergeant Bob Buick is limned by the immaculately chiselled Luke Bracey (of Point Break fame) although, to be fair, many of his privates do look like they’re played by children, which was probably the case.

 

The other problem is that it’s hard to forge an interesting narrative under fire, while character development can but be rudimentary. Here, only Fimmel’s Harry is given a chance to tighten his jawline, whereas Daniel Webber provides a counterpoint as the private who just doesn’t take the war seriously enough. Otherwise, we have the usual officious top brass figures, headed by Richard Roxburgh’s toffee-nosed Brigadier David Jackson. If only there was just one character we could care about.

 

Where Danger Close comes into its own, however, is in the hands of DP Ben Nott, whose lighting of the locations (the incinerated South Vietnamese rubber plantation reproduced in Queensland) is sensational. Pummelled by rain and smoke, the forests take on an almost surreal majesty under bombardment, although the digitally brushed sprays of pink blood undermines the realism. The last war film Luke Bracey co-starred in was Mel Gibson’s ludicrously violent Hacksaw Ridge (2016), which pushed war gore to new Pythonesque extremes. Here, at least, the massive death toll is not gloated on, nor the mutilation of its victims. It should also be pointed out that Major Harry Smith, Bob Buick and the various soldiers under their command are all based on real participants of the battle.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Travis Fimmel, Luke Bracey, Daniel Webber, Alexander England, Aaron Glennane, Nicholas Hamilton, Myles Pollard, Matt Doran, Anthony Hayes, Richard Roxburgh, Lasarus Ratuere, Mojean Aria, Emmy Dougall.

 

Dir Kriv Stenders, Pro Stuart Beattie, Tony H. Noun, Silvio Salom, Andrew Mann, Martin Walsh, John Schwarz and Michael Schwarz, Screenplay Stuart Beattie, James Nicholas, Karel Segers, Paul Sullivan and Jack Brislee, Ph Ben Nott, Pro Des Sam Hobbs, Ed Veronika Jenet, Music Caitlin Yeo, Costumes Lizzy Gardiner, Special Effects Supervisor Brian Cox.

 

Screen Queensland/Screen Australia/Saboteur Media/Red Dune Films/Deeper Water Films/Sunjive Studios/THN Nominees/Hoosegow Productions/Ingenious Media-Signature Entertainment.

113 mins. Australia. 2019. Rel: 6 April 2020. Available on all UK Digital platforms now. Cert. 15.