DANGER CLOSE: THE BATTLE OF LONG TAN
“Danger Close: The Battle Of Long Tan” is a brand new Australian made Drama/War film Directed by Kriv Stenders (Red Dog). It centers around a pivotal battle fought over a 3 day period in August of 1966 at Long Tan, a rubber plantation in Vietnam. It was there that 108 fresh-faced Aussie and Kiwi soldiers (with the average age being just 20) were thrust into the fight of their lives against an entire battalion of over 2,000 North Vietnamese and Vietcong soldiers. Initially, it’s 11 Platoon, led by Sgt. Bob Buick (played by Luke Bracy of “Hacksaw Ridge”) who have first contact with the enemy and are ultimately pinned down by the sheer weight of numbers. With 12th Platoon and Delta Company headed up the rear, Major Harry Smith (Travis Fimmel from TV’s Vikings) and his men are left to fend for themselves while attempting to co-ordinate reinforcements and replenish their dwindling supplies. The film also stars Daniel Webber (11.22.63), Anthony Hayes (Animal Kingdom), Richard Roxburgh (TV’s Rake), Nicholas Hamilton (IT), Aaron Glenane (Killing Grounds), and Sam Parsonson (Hacksaw Ridge).
A number of films have been made about the Vietnam War over the years but Danger Close is special, because not only is it the most expensive war film to come out of Australia, it brings attention to a somewhat forgotten but extremely vital piece of the puzzle of Australia’s history in the Vietnam War – The Battle Of Long Tan. The film opens with powerful slow-motion imagery in the midst of the chaos and intercuts with serving up some facts about the war. The average age of these Australian and New Zealander soldiers was 20. Most were conscripts. Few had seen any battle prior. When you let some of that sink in, it really doesn’t take long for the stark reality of what these young men went through, to impact you on a human to human level. The script (which was penned by five different writers) is generally pretty tight and the group was able to conjure a couple of interesting character arcs for the primary leaders, in Buick and Smith. How true the specifics are to the respective men, I don’t know.
The supremely clean nature of Ben Nott’s (Predestination) cinematography is something to behold. It’s categorically on show from the opening framing, all the way through to a notable tracking shot which pulls in low over a bed of water and rises up to show D company (and co) searching the area for survivors – a gorgeous movement indeed. The drone footage looks nice, two-shots are tight, and the best is kept for a stunning crane shot with a timely lens flare through the luscious green trees and down into some calm marshy terrain. The audio track and foley are both palpable, and with full surround sound you won’t get a more accurate sense of the environment, and in particular, the unfathomable volume of penetration dispersed by the heavy artillery (which was by all accounts ear-shattering). Caitlin Yeo is behind the aptly haunting score in Danger Close. It’s one that sees its foundations settled in low-end tones and stirring vocal work. That said, there’s still some energy in here with Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made For Walking”. Attention to detail is strong in both Lizzy Gardiner’s costume design and Sam Hobbs production design. The other aspect where good continuity is maintained throughout is the hair and makeup. Everyone looks fittingly worn and disheveled by the elements and the demands of the situation at hand.
The performances right across the board in Danger Close are consistently good, and there’s simply too many to single out. As a rule, war films have a lot of characters and that can be difficult to keep up with, though fortunately each of these units become the focal point at completely different times. Bracey’s “Buick” leads the 11th Platoon consisting of Second Lt. Gordon Sharp (Mojean Aria), Private Colin Whiston (Sam Fraser), and Private Barry Meller (Ryan Hance) among others. The 12th is fronted by Second Lt. Geoff Kendal (Travis Jeffery) and is made up of Second Lt. David Sabben (Parsonson), Seargent Paddy Todd (Sean Lynch), and Corporal Buddy Lea (Lasarus Ratuere) among many more. Delta Company is the unit that joins up with the remaining men to bring the fight to the enemy during the last act of the film. Harry Smith has underneath him, Private Large (Webber), Private Grimes (Hamilton), Captain Morrie Stanley (Glenane) and plenty more. Luke’s, Bob feels like someone you can immediately get on board with (the performance reflects that), whereas Fimmel’s Smith is a hard-nosed headstrong individual who doesn’t express a whole lot of compassion for his subordinates and that makes for an interesting evolution of the man. It’s undoubtedly the most powerful performance in the film, and Fimmel’s ability to time his breathing so well, allows him, conversely, to convey so much through just the eyes. Roxburgh and Hayes play a Brigadier and Lt. Colonel respectively and certainly command your attention as life and death decisions are being made right before your eyes.
As for the battle itself, it’s well-choreographed, and as accurate a depiction of major happenings from that time as you could get. The tropical-like conditions were prone to bring about sudden massive downpours, only for the sun to make its way through the clouds shortly thereafter. I don’t know if it rained on those particular days but there can be no denying that it makes for beautiful cinematic viewing, and I have no doubt that Stenders and Co would have done a significant amount of research around the inner workings of what occurred at Long Tan all those years ago. There’s suspense through the timing of how it plays out and once the gunfire starts it never really stops. You’re in the dirt with these guys for the long haul and you get to know what makes them tick. It wouldn’t be an Aussie film without some of our infamous dry humor. One such notable interaction comes early into proceedings after Private Large gets a little overzealous and discharges his weapon without warning and is later reamed out over it by the Major.
If I’m really being nitpicky I’d argue that several members of the cast are perhaps pushing the boundaries of appearing to be the average age that’s indicated. It’s a balancing act though I suppose, between getting the right look for each respective man but also having a high standard of performance when the whips get cracking (which usually only comes with age and experience). Maybe it’s just because I knew that Danger Close was filmed in Queensland prior to seeing it, but not all of our landscape passes accurately for the North of Vietnam. Queensland doesn’t have many locations that appear as mountainous, that and several sections of the high grass fields look like Australian levels of dry. I’m not fully versed in the specific methods of the platoons either, but I was left scratching my head at a few of the decisions that were made while on the battlefield. The landscape provides almost no legitimate cover, only minimal concealment, so the last thing you’d want to do would be to spend too much time out in the open. Yet, when the 12th eventually arrive to provide assistance for 11th Platoon, Bob and Geoff embrace out in the open, one of whom has his back directly to the action. I suppose when you’ve been on high alert in that environment for that long, it’d be easy to drop your guard for a moment. However, it would make a lot more sense to greet and retain your position side on instead, encase of an attack. Maybe that’s exactly what those men did though, who knows?
Danger Close: The Battle Of Long Tan was one of my top five highly anticipated films of 2019 and I was extremely pleased with the end result. It’s an important story about mateship, bravery, and sacrifice whilst in the face of incredible adversity. Stenders handles the material with a strong conviction and the technical aspects are of the highest level. The cinematography is superb, the sound design and score atmospheric, and the re-creation of events is done in a meticulous nature. The character types are engaging and each of the performances feels honest – kudos should go to the casting department as well. The battle was an intense one and an extremely important one in our history and that of the Vietnam War. Please get along to cinemas now and support this wonderful Australian film. You can check out the official trailer below!
My rating for “Danger Close” is 8/10