Danger Close – The Battle of Long Tan (2019)

I don’t know what it is…but something about the Vietnam War (officially 1965 – 75) fascinates me. What’s even stranger is…I’m Canadian. We, and many other Commonwealth nations, refused to get pulled into that unnecessary and disgusting mess of a conflict, and I’m very proud of that note in Canadian history. But something about it draws me in.

Something…about the history of the conflict, for my inner history lover.

Something…about the damage it caused to the American Dream, and the interesting ripples in the cultural psyche we still see today.

Something…about the dizzying array of iconic weapons, vehicles and tactics, for my inner red-blooded 8-year old.

And, as a proud Film Nerd, there’s something…intensely cinematic about the Vietnam War…in my humble opinion.

Some of my favorite war films exist because of that sullied period in recent global history, absolute classics like Apocalypse Now (1979), Platoon (1986), Hamburger Hill (1987), Full Metal Jacket (1987) and Bat 21 (1988). I could also mention the surprisingly decent TV show Tour of Duty (1987, 3 seasons), Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July (1989) and Joel Schumacher’s Tigerland (2000), among others. But…if you look at those titles…they’re ALL focusing on the involvement of just one country (fairly), but they do gloss over the fact that the US was not the only country that went to war with North Vietnam (cough, cough…China / Russia…cough, cough) for the majority of the 1960’s and half of the 70’s. Even though the Yanks were leading the charge, they were effectively backed by the militaries of South Korea, Thailand, New Zealand and Australia. These other countries had swallowed the ‘Communism = BAD’ Kool-Aid and leaped in to help Old Glory smite the uppity Asian commies in some country that most of the citizens of the war-mongering nations had never even heard of.

But…they were there, and saw their share of action.

But unlike the plethora of media that’s been released via the US focusing on the why’s, how’s and when’s, as they saw it, I’ve seen virtually nothing from any other nations involved over the years. Which is why this one surprised me when I stumbled upon a Youtube clip that was a short scene from this film showing a vicious battle ensuing among the trees of a large rubber plantation. The Production Design and attention to detail stood out to me and I realized exactly what I just mentioned above – I’ve never seen a Vietnam War film from ANYONE ELSE’S POINT OF VIEW…only what the Americans had to show.

After a little digging, I found that Danger Close was based on an actual event – a vicious battle that broke out between 108 Australian / New Zealand troops, mostly conscripts and new recruits, and 2500 well prepared North Vietnamese soldiers in a large rubber plantation.

Naturally, I was intrigued.

So, I got up early on a Sunday, brewed up an oversized mocha and fired this Australian production up on Amazon, as my Better Half and the two dog girls slumbered on our awesome new bed.

Here be those scribbles

Already see the influence of Apocalypse Now. Tracking shot of Zippo, booze, .45 etc. Apocalypse Now is, hands down, one of my favorite films, not just for the polished and ambitious content of the film itself, but also for the legendary tale of woe behind it’s creation. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend checking out Hearts of Darkness (1991), the brilliant Making Of Apocalypse Now documentary from Francis Ford Coppola’s wife Eleanor. It’s fascinating.

Anyway…Apocalypse Now opens with the infamous ‘The End’ sequence where Martin Sheen’s ‘Captain Willard’ gets fucking wasted and trashes his hotel room (all real and caught on film on Martin Sheen’s birthday, to dangerous effect), all set to that iconic Doors track. During this sequence we get a gorgeous slow tracking shot that shows items of ‘Willard’s haphazardly strewn on a bed; his Airborne Zippo, his Colt .45 pistol, a bottle of booze, picture of the estranged wife etc. It’s one of the first shots in Danger Close, coming right after a highly ‘Apocalypse Now‘ish shot of a flight of Royal Australian Air Force Hueys inbound. All of it looked good…I could just see the influences loud and clear.

Trigger discipline! Oh…it paid off. As a licensed gun owner here in Canada, I’ve been through the necessary training for basic firearm safety and there was a sequence where a careless trooper sips on a beer during a pause in a Battle Damage Assessment mission (smart one, that fella), all the while his fucking finger is jammed into his fucking trigger guard! Not sure if that was intentional, I had scribbled ‘Trigger discipline‘…then the idiot’s M-16 discharged, leading the whole group of patrolling soldiers into a world of shit. So…it paid off *golf clap*

Nancy! Now into FMJ territory. A key sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s dark 1987 satire Full Metal Jacket, about Marines soul-rending training and soul-killing combat during the Vietnam War, uses Nancy Sinatra’s ‘These Boots Are Made for Walking’ to terrific, and darkly absurd, effect. Someone on this production clearly liked that combination…and did their own here. Not bad…just obvious.

Solid production design. Whatever budget this Australian film had, they used it well. The military equipment and locations felt genuine and period-appropriate, the base setting was impressively detailed – grimy and realistic, and the attention to historical detail was commendable, especially where weapons and vehicles were concerned.

Yep, down go the FNG’s. Shades of ‘Gardner’.  In Oliver Stone’s award-winning Platoon, Charlie Sheen’s ‘Chris’ is assigned to a squad along with another Fucking New Guy named ‘Gardner’. First night in the field, on an Ambush operation, ‘Gardner’ gets unceremoniously blown away almost immediately. Same thing goes down here, with a pair of young replacements who just flew in, who were just starting to feel like important characters….and abruptly dead!

Good first engagement. Geography of battle well defined. Thankfully, this stylistic choice continued and for the most part, I had a clear idea of how the battles and strategies were playing out as the narrative unspooled.

Shades of ‘We Were Soldiers’ – prolonged battle, one location. 2002’s Mel Gibson-starring Vietnam flick, which isn’t bad, just somehow a tad too ‘Hollywood’ to be truly ‘classic’, was another that focused on a single, epic engagement, in that case, the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley in 1965. Same approach here.

Battle scenes are a touch repetitive…but still well done. There are many waves to the bloody battle depicted and after several, it began to feel a touch déjà vu. But the battles WERE well executed. Gotta give credit where credit is due.

Damn! Didn’t expect HIM to buy it. The abruptness was effective. Being that this is based on allegedly true events (I can’t speak to the accuracy), the fates of select characters don’t have to follow some studio play-book. If the moment in the historical story is reached in the narrative….*Blam!*…that character who we’ve been seeing more and more of…is suddenly gone, with an out-of-nowhere rifle round in his forehead.

APC rescue reminds of the end of Saving Private Ryan. I LOVE Spielberg’s ’98 classic…but I do admit that the conveniently timed and spectacular arrival of the ‘Tank Buster’ P-51’s JUST as all hope was lost is pure Spielbergian schmaltz, just done to perfection. Some akin to that turns up here too, when the badass APC’s storm into the battle, guns ablazin, just as the beleaguered soldiers prepare to fight to the death in hand to hand combat with the oncoming NVA.

Movie doesn’t say much about AUS / NZ larger involvement. Kept intimate. The focus stays on the battle and the men involved, without the influence or mention of politics or public perceptions. Granted, ’66 was still early into the declared hostilities and the opinion-changing images hadn’t flashed across televisions world-wide yet.

Effective ‘post action’ Roll Call scene. In dramatically somber fashion, it’s made clear that the loss of 18 men cut deep into minds and souls of the survivors. It reminded me of the beautifully bleak end of Hamburger Hill, where we see the broken survivors lost inside themselves, collapsed and exhausted on the hill that killed so many of them, as haunting calls for a Situation Report crackle over a radio…ROLL CREDITS.

Overall, simple but well done. There you have it!

All in all, Danger Close was a well executed little film from Down Under that gave me something I’d never seen before, a harrowing and cinematic story about the Vietnam War told from SOMEONE ELSE’S perspective (shush, USA…enough outta YOU for a while!), and it helped lend new perspective to something of which I’m quite familiar with already (extensive library on the subject).

The acting is solid, the production shows effort, the direction feels assured, the use of distracting CGI is kept minimal (those F-4 Phantoms were…ok…sorta), and the action scenes are bold and dramatic. If you’re a fan of history or war films, especially where the Vietnam War is concerned, then I can easily recommend Danger Close and feel that it’s of a quality that puts it shoulder to shoulder with many of those other Vietnam titles noted in this review. Care and attention went into crafting this little-known tale into a solid war film that the Australian film industry should be proud of…and it deserves to be seen.


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