Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan
Travis Fimmel, Luke Bracey, Alexander England, Daniel Webber, Richard Roxburgh, Anthony Hayes
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…the unquestionably good intentions aren’t enough to outweigh the middling results.
We don’t get that many films like this in our corner of the world. Sure, the U.S. keeps our shores good and occupied with war yarns, or even Aussies working in the U.S. like with last year’s goretastic Overlord. But when it comes to Australian involvement in wars that aren’t WWI, both our cinematic and geographic cultures tend to overlook such things. But with the latest from hit-and-miss director Kriv Stenders (Red Dog, Kill Me Three Times, Australia Day), everyone is on-board to highlight a Vietnam skirmish that both this country’s people and government haven’t given nearly enough visibility to.
Surrounding the front-line trio of Maj. Harry Smith (Travis Fimmel), Pvt. Paul Large (Daniel Webber) and Sgt. Bob Buick (Luke Bracey), the collection of ANZAC soldiers fit in with what audiences have come to expect from Aussies at war. It’s a healthy injection of Ocker mannerisms that, while unfortunately leaving characterisation to a select few, shows a working man’s relatability that makes engaging with the soldiers quite easy. Even with the Major, who shows a remarkable (if remarkably cheesy) arc that shows him as someone in need of regaining his faith in his troops, but not someone who needs to be strongarmed into empathising.
From there, the visuals courtesy of DOP Ben Nott (Predestination, Tomorrow, When The War Began) are arresting. Off the back of the brisk pace afforded by the attempts at near-real-time storytelling to capture the battle of Long Tan, the sunburnt colours set against the deceptive serenity of the rubber tree plantation make for a suitably grimy palette, one that helps paint the picture of a story that urges history to keep it alive.
But in that motive lies the main problem with all this. As technically proficient as it is, and as occasionally emotional as it gets, it doesn’t have any real staying power. It doesn’t carry the kind of iconography that has kept Gallipoli in the cultural zeitgeist, or the tightly-wound prowess of Dunkirk, or even the emotionality of Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old. It sticks all too closely to war cinema norms, right down to the stupefying cliché of only giving characters depth just before they leave the picture permanently, and when it reaches its peaks, they still don’t make for much more than being ‘okay’.
Danger Close still makes for a breath of fresh air as far as what Aussie filmmakers are willing to focus on within the ANZAC canon, and recognising the heroes of one of history’s least popular wars is definitely commendable. But the unquestionably good intentions behind all this aren’t enough to outweigh the middling results. What should have been a rousing remembrance of Australians who put their lives on the line, just ends up being a serviceable, but likely forgettable, war flick.