Long Tan is arguably one of Australia’s greatest military victories, and one of its least known.
The shame that cloaked much of our involvement in the Vietnam War also obscured moments of great heroism and self-sacrifice. New film Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan will certainly raise that conflict’s profile. It may also raise awareness of how little of life we control.
Danger Close will be released days before the anniversary of that legendary battle. On 18 August 1966, elements of the 1st Australian Task Force entered an abandoned
rubber plantation in pursuit of a small Viet Cong unit. Instead, the 108 Australian and New Zealanders encountered a force of North Vietnamese regulars nearly 20 times their size. Their survival story alone earns the Battle of Long Tan its reputation as a great triumph. However, the new film is unlikely to rise to such heights.
Danger Close boasts a respectable roster of Australian talent. It’s directed by Kriv Stenders (Red Dog) and stars Richard Roxburgh, Daniel Webber and Luke Bracey. The art direction is flawless and the action sequences communicate the terrifying prospect of confronting nearly endless opposition with nowhere to hide. Yet somehow Danger Close still adds up to less than the sum of its parts.
The moment the camera turns away from conflict, the film falters. During personal moments, the performances are wooden and unengaging. The drama is regularly telegraphed by simplistic lines. Saddest of all, the script fails to deliver any of the trademark Australian wit used to great effect in films like The Odd Angry Shot.
Danger Close also lacks the sensitivity to the essential equality of all races. Except for one brief moment in which an Australian soldier lets two female combatants go, there’s no attempt to convey the humanity of the ‘enemy’. They are props, not people, and their easy dismissal undermines the all-embracing tragedy of war. But if there’s one thing Danger Close does get right, it’s the undeniable fog of war.
No matter how good the technology, war contains so many variables, that the outcome is regularly beyond human control. This reality becomes as clear as it was to the writer of Psalm 33: ‘No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save’ (Psalm 33:16–17).
You might think this reduces each single soldier’s survival to a roll of the dice. Yet the same strategist who recognised this calamity millennia ago, saw its solution, too. King David wrote: ‘Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God’ (Psalm 20:7).
David knew he could stand firm in the face of any foe because his success was decided by God. A relationship with him was worth more than any war machine. ‘Chariots’ were the armoured personnel carriers (APCs) of David’s day; at Long Tan APCs saved the day. Yet their arriving in Danger Close in the right place, at the right time, was God’s call, not some colonel’s. When we realise where real power lies, we can rest as easy in a foxhole as in our beds.
Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan
RELEASE DATE: 8 August 2019
This feature story comes from The Lutheran August 2019. Visit the website to find out more about The Lutheran or to subscribe.
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