The Vietnam War has been revisited countless times over the last fifty years. We’re used to American filmmakers picking at the scabs of the conflict. Less familiar are the stories of Australasian involvement. Danger Close depicts the Battle of Long Tan, in which a group of inexperienced young recruits find themselves comprehensively outnumbered by VC and PAVN forces, as a story of pure heroism. As such, it’s rousing and viscerally well-staged on a modest budget, but painfully derivative and simplistic in its approach.
After a mortar attack on their base is foiled, Major Harry Smith (Travis Fimmel) and his unit volunteer to investigate the area from where the bombardment was fired. This leads to three of the company’s platoons penned in at a rubber plantation against overwhelming Vietnamese forces, while desperately trying to convince their senior officers to authorise armoured support.
Director Stenders and a phalanx of screenwriters focus on the collective efforts of Delta Company, with only a peppering of actual personalities to enforce the theme of communal efforts through constructive insubordination. Fimmel’s Smith clashes with cocky young marksman Large (Daniel Webber). This friction eventually forces Smith to confront his resentment over being selected to train the green recruits. This tension echoes up the chain of command as the top brass butt heads over the quandary of sending reinforcements or cutting their losses. Stenders and editor Veronika Jenet do an admirable job of spinning the various plates – the beleaguered unit, the base at Nui Dat, the APC ground support, and a team of buff, shirtless mortar operators – while without succumbing to the chaos.
The central battle is suitably intense and brutal, full of neat touches like gouts of sap erupting from tree trunks raked with errant ammo. CGI effects are also wisely kept to a minimum, with solid practical effects delivering the requisite doses of the horrors of war. The arid oven of the Queensland bush never quite convinces as the more swampy humidity of the Vietnamese jungle, but this ceases to be an issue once the heavens open and the battle moves on to an even more gruelling, wretched phase.
Danger Close doesn’t concern itself with the ethical reasons for ANZAC forces being deployed in North Vietnam as an invading force. This seems rather odd and retrograde given practically every film that had dealt with the conflict since Platoon at least tries to wrestle with that thorny issue. It gives no more consideration to the enemy as human adversaries than the likes of Zulu, a film which feels like a spiritual antecedent in its approach.
The film’s production team would obviously argue that Danger Close is a soldier’s eye view of combat, and all worries of political sensitivity are set aside when it’s a basic kill-or-be-killed scenario. That said, there are few cinematic stories of courageous Western boys fighting off swathes of anonymous, implacable Asiatic enemies these days for a reason. It also indulges in just about every war film trope imaginable, even the frankly unforgivable cliche of a doomed grunt presenting a photo of his loved ones.
For being such an occasionally tone-deaf Frankenstein’s monster of a film, cut and shut from myriad other movies, it’s impressive how well Danger Close scratches the itch for an efficient, thrilling war film. There aren’t any elements that truly excel and that lingering whiff of unquestioning patriotism is an ugly scratch on its shiny livery but for relentless, meat-and-potatoes action you could do a whole lot worse.
Available now on VOD