NZIFF 19 Special – The Battle of Long Tan: Vietnam War drama with long overdue non-American focus thrills without pushing boundaries

A dramatisation of the 1966 battle between 108 young Australian and New Zealand conscripts and thousands of Viet Cong soldiers. Delta Company are pinned down under waves of attack from North Vietnamese forces in the Long Tan rubber plantation – how many risks can – and should – be taken to save the lives of their mates?

Vietnam War films have developed unique visual, musical, and thematic markers since the first major works concerning the conflict, Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now, were released in the late-70s. Must-have elements include: a bangin’ soundtrack of 60s music, birds-eye camera shots of jungle, unhinged platoon leaders, slow motion fire fights, and heroic Americans.

Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan goes some way to stepping away from the shadow of this paean to the US, giving voice to the little-known story of Australian and New Zealand soldiers role in the conflict while still retaining many of the sub-genre’s key features. The war has had a far smaller effect on society Down Under than across the Pacific. However, the heroism of the soldiers at Long Tan was equal to any of the First or Second World War’s most celebrated battles, and no less compelling. As an intriguing story within the canon of Vietnam War classics, Danger Close… is a total success.

From the outset director Kriv Stenders, most famous for the Aussie-as-Tim Tams Red Dog films, does an excellent job in making their fight our fight. One of the primary issues with war films is how easily disorientated you become when switching between battle scenes, especially in dense, featureless jungle. Stenders’ camera work makes it easy for us to track the various groups pitched in the battle against the Viet Cong. We even follow shells being fired from the base through to the front line – highly invigorating stuff. There were a few too many slow-motion moments to land the hardest of hits, but Stenders remains mostly restrained and lets the pace of the action take centre stage. The editing and effects are surprisingly good too, with gore left to a notable minimum.

The cast features a litany of Australian actors as the young and courageous men of Delta Company. One of the major issues with war films across the board is that in the heat of the action, individuals have very little ability to excel with a memorable acting performance. This is the case with Danger Close… too – the film was a true ensemble effort, with each cast member doing their duty without standing out too much.

The single weakness in Danger Close… lies in its fear to step too far from what Vietnam War films do traditionally. Stenders wasn’t afraid to change things on the surface – tins of Victoria Bitter were free-flowing, as was the Aussie slang. But the film, by again depriving Vietnamese soldiers of their own voices, feeds into the same old problematic depictions of the conflict as resolute Westerners facing hordes of faceless ‘others’. And depriving us of seeing the other side of the story, ironically, undermines Danger Close…good and sincere intentions.

Danger Close… tells a familiar but long overdue story from the Vietnam War. Stellar directing and storytelling are only partially hamstrung my limited scope. 7/10.


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