Friday, November 08, 2019

Danger Close: Anzacs in Vietnam

Many people no longer understand America fought the Vietnam War alongside many coalition partners, notably including the South Koreans, who contributed the second most troops after the U.S. Even our Brazilian friends joined to the war effort, albeit on a much smaller scale. Australian and New Zealand were also very much present and accounted for. In fact, they fought like absolute Hell during the Battle of Long Tan. A mere 108 ANZAC soldiers held off over two thousand North Vietnamese. Long Tan comes life in bloody but enormously cinematic fashion in Kriv Stenders’ Danger Close, which opens today in New York.

It is 1966 and at first blush, the Anzacs look like the sort of good-natured mates and blokes we expect from Aus and NZ. However, it is quickly apparent that does not describe Maj. Harry Smith. The former commando drives his men hard—maybe too hard—but the discipline he instills gives them the best chance of surviving the war. At least that is what his lieutenants thought until they were dispatched to the overgrown Long Tan rubber plantation.

Intelligence suggested there was maybe a platoon or two in the area. Unfortunately, it quickly becomes apparent Smith’s divided forces have been flanked by at least a battalion and perhaps a full regiment. Yet, instead of retreating (as per orders), Smith regroups and reunites his men and digs in to hold off the North Vietnamese. It will be rough for everyone.

Stenders is probably best known in America for the larky black comedy Kill Me Three Times, so it might come as a shock to some that he could stage-manage such gritty and powerful warfighting sequences. There are frequent scenes of artillery and air support exploding perilously close to the Anzacs’ positions (hence the title). The visual effects are first-rate and most of the cast-members are truly dead ringers for the soldiers they portray. On the other hand, we do not get to know very many of the Anzacs as characters (and the North Vietnamese not at all), aside from Maj. Smith, played with tremendous intensity by Travis Frimmel in what could be his career-best work, and Pvt. Paul Large, the company screw-up, who turns steely under fire.

Frankly, it is hard to believe so many direct orders could be disregarded during this battle without causing the mother of all firestorms after the fact, but then again, they are Aussies and Kiwis. Regardless, the ensemble is uniformly convincing as military personnel and the battle scenes are brutally gripping. This is a film that will fly under many people’s radar, but it really deserves greater attention. Highly recommended, Danger Close opens today (11/8) in New York, at the Cinema Village.