The Vietnam War is one event that has been visited countless times over the course of cinematic history. Predominantly from the perspectives of the Americans who fought though, Australian filmmaker Kriv Stenders (Red Dog) is no doubt hoping his homegrown viewpoint in Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan can act as something of an honourable charge for the Australian and New Zealand soldiers that served in a battle that is so oft overlooked; the final credits inform us that it took 45 years for the Australian government to finally acknowledge this proceeding even happened.
Set in 1966, the film begins in South Vietnam as the 1st Australian Task Force are bombarded by Vietcong mortars. With an immediate urgency – though you wouldn’t know it through the alarmingly casual demeanour of Major Smith (Travis Fimmel, whose initial delivery is questionable) – the five-man strong script leads Smith, under the orders of Colonel Townsend (Anthony Hayes) and Brigadier Jackson (Richard Roxburgh), to search for the forces responsible.
For the remainder of the film’s 118 minute running time, Smith’s men – with Luke Bracey’s loyal Sergeant Buick and Daniel Weber’s Private Large earning the most focus of the interchangeable crew – meet an onslaught of artillery, leading them to find their best way of survival, with the elements of unpredictable weather and decreasing ammunition against them.
As much as Danger Close is telling a unique story, and there’s a certain intimacy to the way Stenders stages his scenes that appears quite rare for a film of this genre, unfortunately it doesn’t translate to a product with much of an identity. It’s patriotic without question, and it wisely exorcises the political side of war in favour of giving the men rightful focus, but so many of the young men involved feel replaceable that it’s the actors of mild aesthetic familiarity that we attach ourselves to, rather than their specific characters.
Standard the film may be however, it can’t be taken away that it’s telling an important story, a moment in history that warrants highlighting. Danger Close may not be the best representation of it, but these soldiers’ service, bravery, and spirit deserves acknowledgement, and Stenders has done so with the best of intentions.