Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan tells the story of a group of Australian troops in Vietnam. It’s 1966, Major Smith (Travis Fimmel) is tired of taking care of (mostly) teenage soldiers, and requests to be transferred. His officer (Richard Roxburgh) denies this request and sends him into the jungle looking for the enemy. This leads them to the abandoned village of Long Tan, where his platoon gets split up into two groups: one led by Smith himself, the other led by Sergeant Buick (Luke Bracey). Not long after, Buick finds himself under fire, left with a broken radio.
Director Kriv Stenders knows how to direct action scenes and to be honest, the cinematography (Ben Nott), editing (Veronika Jenet) and sound design are exquisite for an Australian film. We jump from one team to another with smooth overlapping and beautiful slomo imagery of guns going off and enemies blasting into the air, while shirtless artillerymen back at basecamp have to make life defining decisions within seconds that could kill their fellow mates.
The scale of the film reminded me of other Hollywood war films, but knowing this was all filmed in Queensland, Australia, it kind of takes the magic out of the spectacle. The actual battle took place at a rubber plantation and the locations used to replicate this, could definitely stand in as the true Long Tan. Some digital effects look choppy with choppers dropping supplies down in the dense jungle of Vietnam and missiles flying through the sky to blow up enemy soldiers.
The story is filled with nothing but been-there-done-that characters, which you see in every cliche-ridden war film. This is where Danger Close could’ve been a standout, but they only focused on the visuals. Travis Fimmel acting like a deranged viking in the opening sequence of the film, didn’t help either to set the tone. Luckily he seems to get it together, since he’s still the main character, but is never the standout of this band of brothers. However, Daniel Webber (who plays private Paul Large) is the one to watch. His acting chops could pave the way to a more international career on the silver screen. If it wasn’t for his clearly “tearjerker” storyline, he could’ve been the true frontrunner of Australian stardom. But for now, he does a bang up job.
Screenwriter Stuart Beattie decided to stay accurate to the real Battle of Long Tan, by writing a sequence into the story where popular Aussie singers Little Pattie (Emmy Dougall) and Col Joye (Geoffrey Winter) give a small concert before everyone flees to join the battle. I don’t think this was necessary in the already lengthy 118 minutes runtime, but I guess you can’t just have almost two hours of machine guns and death, without a little useless breather in the middle.
The ending of the film comes as a relief, to the endless jeopardy these men have been in, losing friends at such a young age, just starting to live their lives and lost forever. The names and age of every Australian soldier who’s lost their life roll over the screen without a sound, as if the Vietnam war wasn’t controversial enough as it was. In all credit, films like these keep the memory alive of historical events, so younger generations don’t forget the horrors of the past.
Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan gets released in Australian cinemas August 8.
Review by Seth Eelen