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Danger Close ignores the complexity of the Vietnam War

DANGER CLOSE: THE BATTLE OF LONG TAN
directed by Kriv Stenders

A film about the Battle of Long Tan is a parochial and clichéd bloodbath that adds nothing to the Vietnam War canon.

On August 18, 1966, a company of Australian soldiers, along with their New Zealand artillery observers, found themselves cut off in a rubber plantation near Long Tân in South Vietnam by thousands of North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong troops. The Battle of Long Tan, as it’s known, has become a footnote in the fraught history of Australasian involvement in Vietnam, a conflict that was furiously controversial then and remains so now. In Danger Close, a noisy, macho recreation of that siege, Australian director Kriv Stenders has picked his side: this is a brash, jocular tribute to the diggers’ sacrifices, filled with exaltations of honour and hard yakka.

The Vietnam War has given cinema some of its most radically disturbing images, yet Danger Close has been plundered from long-established war-film clichés: the mildly insubordinate company commander (Travis Fimmel), the grumpy brigadier (Richard Roxburgh) and the green lads fresh from basic and blushed with bravado. And so on.

Once the fighting gets going, there is a certain pyrotechnic impressiveness: a shell blasts from a Kiwi battery and we follow its morbid arc – Michael Bay-style – over the battlefield. But the action is stranded: if your characters are mere archetypes of hardy heroes, it’s tough to drum up any sympathy.

Stenders seems more interested in grossly stylising the deaths of the Vietnamese troops, anyway. With a dark kind of glee, he films hundreds of bodies being perforated, mangled, blown up and, for that extra sense of insult, cartwheeling through the air in slow motion.

In any other setting, a people defending their homeland from foreign invaders would be seen as hardy battlers, but here they are nothing more than a primitive, faceless, screaming horde to be gleefully pulverised. Boisterous flag waving is one thing, but the kind of dehumanisation on display in Danger Close is reprehensible.

One wonders if the families of the men who fought – or anyone else for that matter – would be impressed with a film that so shamelessly ignores complexity and context.  

IN CINEMAS NOW

This article was first published in the September 14, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.