Similar to the Australian war film Kokoda (2006), Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan is a true story of desperation, determination and survival within a seemingly unwinnable battle. Originally on a reconnaissance mission, 108 ANZACs found themselves surrounded by over 2,000 battle-hardened North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers on September 18, 1966. What ensued was a savage encounter lasting over three hours.
Unlike their enemies, most of these ‘men’ were volunteers and conscripts. Most had never seen battle. The average age was 21. The only support was a three-man artillery squad near their HQ.
In contrast to the young soldiers, the central character of the film is the experienced Major Harry Smith (Travis Fimmel, internationally known for Vikings). Smith’s frustration with his seemingly useless soldiers are well known amongst the men. This initially creates tension between the young privates and Smith as the former see Smith as a leader who doesn’t care about them. This dynamic is further explored once Smith is in command on the battlefield.
It quickly becomes clear that his decision-making and the relationship he truly has with his men will be brutally tested. There are incredibly hard decisions to be made after his company finds themselves separated. Each step forward becomes loaded with tension. This is not a battle they can win, it can only be survived.
Taking advantage of the fact that this is about a single battle, the experience feels as if it is playing out in real time, giving it a unique sense of realism. While the script does fall flat occasionally, due to the sparse character building, the film makes up for it through the incredible sense of urgency it brings to the war.
Unflinching in its historic accuracy, and its use of suspense, Danger Close is one of the best war films of recent memory. Its unrelenting tension is felt both in the action on the battlefield and in the hectic moments at HQ. The action sequences may not be flashy, especially considering the small scope of the film, but the film effectively conveys the real significance of The Battle of Long Tan. It is about the true grit and determination the soldiers showed in moving forward when faced with such overwhelming odds.