Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan Review
During the Vietnam War, Australia and New Zealand sent troops, a mixture of conscripts and volunteers, to support the United States and the South Vietnamese in their conflict with the Communist North Vietnam. The Battle of Long Tan took place on 18 August 1966 in a rubber plantation near Long Tan, when a hundred and eight Australian (and some New Zealander) troops held off some two thousand Vietnamese.
With some exceptions, such as John Wayne’s notoriously gung-ho The Green Berets, American cinema didn’t really start to deal with Vietnam and their role in the conflict until after it had ended. Australia was the same. The Odd Angry Shot was released in 1979 amid worries that it might be too soon, just four years after the war had ended. The now-little-seen 1969 film You Can’t See 'Round Corners (a big-screen spin-off from a television series of the same name) did have its protagonist trying to avoid being drafted to Vietnam, but otherwise the subject was little dealt with.
Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan sets a mood from the start, with slow-motion combat footage overlaid with Caitlin Yeo’s score, heavy on church-like organ. The script (by Stuart Beattie, James Nicholas, Karel Segers, Paul Sullivan and Jack Brislee) does make it clear who is doing what and why, though in the film’s two hours not too many of the characters are much developed, with some being hard to distinguish. Kriv Stenders’s direction and Ben Nott’s cinematography gives the film a strong, realistic feel, and it holds our attention. The soldiers, average age twenty, most of whom had not seen combat before, are played by lesser-known younger actors, with some bigger names (Anthony Hayes, Richard Roxburgh) in smaller roles as officers.
As well as Yeo’s score, there’s a good use of music, mostly of the period. The end credits begin with pictures of the real soldiers and the actors playing them, overlaid with the song “I Was Only 19 (A Walk in the Light Green)”, and it’s not hard to have a lump in the throat. That song, performed by Redgum, was an Australian number one single in 1983, though this version is a cover by John Schumann (the song’s writer, guitarist and singer) and the Vagabond Crew.
At the Battle of Long Tan, eighteen Australians died, and their names and ages are listed in the credits. Approximately two hundred and forty-five Vietnamese died as well. Both sides claimed victory.
The film is a tribute to ANZAC heroism, though it doesn’t really go into the reasons for the conflict and whether the Americans, Australians and New Zealanders should have been there, as another film might, and the Vietnamese are seen as no more than “others” to be fought and killed, or to be killed by. Needless to say, there is plenty of detail of injury and death, but it’s far less graphic than, say, Hacksaw Ridge, to name a recent Australian-made war film. The film was shot in Queensland, on location and in the studio, and over a hundred Australians who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan advised the production and appeared as extras. Stenders’s films have been uneven, with his best to my mind being Red Dog (he also directed the less-good sequel) and the music documentary The Go-Betweens: Right Here, with the misconceived updated television miniseries of Wake in Fright being among his worst. Danger Close is certainly among his better ones.
Danger Close was released in Australia on 8 August 2019, following a premiere at the Sydney Film Festival. It won an AACTA Award for its sound, with nominations for cinematography and editing. At the time of writing, there has been no confirmation of a UK release.
Transmission’s Blu-ray of Danger Close is encoded for Region B only. It carries a MA15+ rating, which is for “strong war themes and violence” though you could add “strong language” to that. Danger Close would almost certainly receive a 15 certificate were it to be submitted to the BBFC.
The film was digitally captured on the Arri Alexa Mini, with anamorphic lenses, and the Blu-ray transfer is in the intended ratio of 2.40:1. As this is a new film, and in the digital realm from shooting to release (I don’t know if there were any 35mm cinema prints, but that’s increasingly unlikely in this day and age), you’d expect it to look pristine, and it does. Shadow detail in the darker scenes is fine.
The soundtrack is in DTS-HD MA 5.1. The film’s many battle scenes do give your speakers a workout, with the subwoofer adding to the gunfire and explosions. There is also an audio-descriptive track in DTS-HD MA 2.0 (playing in surround). English subtitles are available for the hard-of-hearing on the feature but not the extras, though only one extra would need them.
That extra is billed as “behind the scenes” (5:36) but what it actually is, is an interview with the film’s production designer, Sam Hobbs. Production design is an often overlooked part of filmmaking so it’s good to see it showcased here. Hobbs talks about the challenges of making a period piece, and a war film on a scale not usually mounted in Australia. These include faking a rubber plantation, as such things don’t exist in Australia.
The other extra is “Delta Company Manning”, a text page listing all the soldiers, with asterisks and hashes marking those who were killed or wounded, either at Long Tan or later. It is backed by music and runs 2:57.