DANGER CLOSE: The Battle of Long Tan – the Next Film from Kriv Stenders of RED DOG Fame

When I first saw the trailer for Kriv Stenders’ new film, DANGER CLOSE: THE BATTLE OF LONG TAN I was excited. It starred my fave Viking, it was an Aussie war movie made by the guy who made RED DOG, and it also starred one of my favourite current up-and-coming youngsters, Nicholas Hamilton. I was in! It also had echoes of the wonderful BENEATH HILL 60 from a couple of years back, although from a different war, and it had Richard Roxburgh – BRING IT ON.

DANGER CLOSE: THE BATTLE OF LONG TAN is out now from Transmission Films, it runs for 118mins and is rated MA15+. This one’s on wide release in Australia screening at most of the major cinemas.

Danger Close Travis Fimmel image
Travis Fimmel

BY JASON KING

DANGER CLOSE SYNOPSIS:

August 18, 1966. Late Afternoon. South Vietnam. For three and a half hours, in the pouring rain, amid the mud and shattered trees of a rubber plantation called Long Tan, Major Harry Smith and his dispersed company of 108 young and mostly inexperienced Australian and New Zealand soldiers are fighting for their lives. They’re holding off an overwhelming force of 2,000 battle-hardened Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers.

With their ammunition running out, their casualties mounting, and the enemy massing for a final assault, each man begins to search for the strength to triumph over an uncertain future with honour, decency and courage. 18 Australians and at least 250 enemy were killed, with some estimations being over 500.

The Battle of Long Tan is one of the most savage and decisive engagements in Australian military history, earning both the United States and South Vietnamese Presidential Unit Citations for gallantry along with many individual awards. But not before 18 Australians and more than 250 Vietnamese are killed. 

Danger Close Nicholas Hamilton image
Nicholas Hamilton

THE BATTLE OF LONG TAN:

18 Australians were killed in THE BATTLE OF LONG TAN while about 250 Vietnamese men were killed. I would have loved to have seen the movie a little more even sided in the storytelling. I mean why was Australia even at Long Tan? An Australian-sided story the Viet Cong are shown as merely brainless automatons that just keep on charging and falling. These scenes from DANGER CLOSE were a little more like something from a RAMBO film than a film trying to show one of Australia’s greatest war successes via good storytelling. It felt very generic in these endless charging-to-die scenes. A film that was made with the Vietnamese and explored both sides, along the line of FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS/ LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA would have been brilliant.

Kriv Stenders does capture fantastic action and war choreography in the film. It is harrowing seeing multiple platoons getting hammered on all sides. I cannot even imagine being in that situation and I do feel for the people involved, on both sides. But it is captured artistically and it is here that both Stenders and Cinematographer Ben Nott (WINCHESTER, TOMORROW WHEN THE WAR BEGAN) shine. The artistry in some shots was breathtaking.

Shot in Queensland, the producers found a great stand-in for the rubber plantation on which the battle took place. CGI is kept to a minimum as helicopters drop supplies, American fighter jets fly over and drop bombs and tanks race to the rescue, it is organised chaos. The filmmakers wanted to try and capture as much authenticity as possible even including the concert by Aussie singers Little Pattie and Col Joye, who had to be evacuated once the battle started.

A LOT OF GOOD SWAMPED BY A LOT OF BAD:

The filmmakers got so much right and then swamped it with poor character development, average story exploration and one dimensional characters. Some early scenes started with wonderful character development and then squandered the opportunity to build them to anything meaningful.

And it breaks my heart to say it but Travis Fimmel as Major Harry Smith, and in another life the much worshipped Ragnar Lothbrok, is grossly miscast. He was just terrible. I love Fimmel in most things all the way back to his Calvin Klein modelling but he made me cringe in a lot of scenes, totally out of his element.

Danger Close Daniel Webber image
Daniel Webber

THE CASTING:

Fimmel’s Major Harry Smith is all that is wrong with war, a leader who appears to thirst for action, but in DANGER CLOSE, when it arrives he is pretty much useless. He complains he is working with young recruits, he would prefer to be with his commando professionals from previous battles and nearly throttles one of his charges for lying to him. Was this character even real or a heavy fictionalised version of the real person? He disobeys orders, appears confused most of the time and was just terribly presented on every level. And like I said Fimmel made it much worse. But one thing I will say for Major Harry Smith, he never gave up on his men.

Luke Bracey does much better as Sergeant Bob Buick and I would have much preferred Bracey in the Smith role, we could have done with more of him. Up-and-coming Nicholas Hamilton does admirably as the deer-in-the-headlights youngster in the middle of a shit storm. I get it, he’s cute and there to pick on your emotions, also underutilised. Richard Roxburgh is generic as Brigadier David Jackson and portrays a two dimensional but also confusing leader solely with the purpose of protecting his own ass. He appears to have a good relationship with Major Harry Smith and yet when push comes to shove prefers to let him die.

Daniel Webber steals the show. His presence was highly engaging and he was the only character that had some decent character development. A long time ago he was in HOME AND AWAY, played Lee Harvey Oswald on 11.22.63 and more recently was in TEENAGE KICKS and AUSTRALIA DAY. Watch this space – he is going places, especially after outshining most of the cast in this.

Danger Close Richard Roxburgh image
Richard Roxburgh

IN CONCLUSION:

DANGER CLOSE: THE BATTLE OF LONG TAN provides some great war cinematography and choreography from a little known and horrific battle in the Vietnam War. But that is about it. It is let down by poor character development, a miscast lead and an undeveloped story. See this for the wonderful battle cinematography and for the light it does shed on what these Aussie men went through for their country.

YOUR CRITIC:

Jason King owns, writes and edits Salty Popcorn and Spooning Australia. A movie, food, restaurant, wine, chocolate, bacon, burger and brussels sprouts addict he is a member of the Australian Film Critics Association and has been in the Australian movie industry for 26yrs. 

He believes all it takes to make a good movie is a bloody good story, with a little luck the rest should fall in line. He is getting a little sick of saying “story story story” in his reviews with so much shite releasing in the last decade. Furthermore he loves watching people trip over and is Leonardo DiCaprio’s biggest fan. 

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher. Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.