Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan Review.
Depicting the horrors of the Vietnam War has been the goal of some of the finest films ever to grace the silver screen. Each one of them has told of its needlessness and violence without holding back. Now it is time for Australia to properly add its voice to this medium of storytelling on the topic. “Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan” recalls the battle that saw 108 brave ANZAC soldiers, many of whom were conscripts, take on an estimated Viet Cong force of over 1000 in the rubber plantation of Long Tan during the Vietnam War.
It is a story that often falls on deaf ears due to it being the most unpopular war in the history of Australia. However, that makes it only all the more important to tell. Director Kriv Stenders tasked himself with glorifying and further immortalising these men, and when all is said and done, I believe he has done just that.
The story from a historical standpoint is relatively accurate and straightforward in its approach. From a character standpoint, the men come off as both familiar and unique at the same time. The archetypes form quickly. For instance, Travis Fimmel’s redemption character Major Harry Smith and Richard Roxburgh’s grizzled and stubborn Brigadier David Jackson, but the way Stenders has opted to present them is refreshing.
Within this context, we are subject to an atmosphere riddled with Australian colloquialisms and classic humour that manages to shine enough new light on these familiar individuals. The performances enhance this to no end, with the aforementioned Fimmel and Roxburgh being standouts in an excellent ensemble. Luke Bracey is also worth mentioning as Sergeant Bob Buick. He nails the endearing war hero so well that I believe this is the best performance of his young career.
Strangely enough, the highest praise I can give the performances is that most of them are underwhelming throughout the opening. It is hard to say why this is, possibly the distinctly Australian tone clashing with the setting, or challenges with production allocating time to filming this section. Regardless this evolves into a miraculous strength. The emotional bonds that are able to form as the story progresses combine with this shaky beginning to further emphasise the growth of the characters.
The primary goal of this movie, as it is with most war movies, is to make clear that one of the significant casualties of war is youth just as much as lives. Seeing these young men, each of whom is inspired by their real-life counterpart, forced to evolve so drastically is what makes Danger Close the pleasant tribute that it is. Once the battle begins, their baptism of fire becomes the films greatest asset and sparks the characters to life as they embrace their tragedy.
With the depiction of the battle, Stenders has opted to be as direct as possible. Which serves to honour the heroes to no end; however, it does feel as though it is something we have seen before. The lifelessness of the enemy becomes a slight issue, and the violent impact is lacking in certain key moments. The initial period of the battle begins with a bang, but it can’t help but stagnate as it drags on.
There was no genuine attempt to break new ground within the genre, which is a shame because I think those involved were more than capable of achieving that. Thankfully the emotional impact doesn’t suffer because of this, that aspect remains firmly intact thanks to the exceptional performances. When the few moments where the combat and the emotion combine come around the most stimulating portions of the entire film play and form the most respectful Australian film tribute to its heroes in years.
There are two technical aspects of this film that are entirely mesmerising throughout with how beautiful they are. The cinematography of Ben Nott and Caitlin Yeo’s score combine to form some gorgeous moments briefly reminiscent of the stunning images and music of “The Thin Red Line”. These two aspects are just as crucial to expressing emotion as the performances are, and when they all come together, it is impossible not to be impressed.
It is a depiction of war that, at times, is violent and aggressive, yet, at least on the Australian side of things, is not exploitation depicting mindless drones of war. Stenders most prominent success on his end is that he ensured each brave Australian is a Man first and a soldier second, something that is so easy to miss in war films.
As the credits roll, I think anyone who sees Danger Close will be left dwelling on the typical giant questions like “Why were we there?” and “Was it worth it?”. However, above all else, they will think upon the battle of Long Tan and how young conscripts made the impossible possible. All involved should take a bow for telling the story as respectfully as they have. The stunning technical achievements and the supremely respectful performances elevate Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan above its run of the mill storytelling.
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