By turns viscerally exciting and predictably formulaic — and, quite often, both at once — “Danger Close” is an efficiently crafted and consistently involving old-school war movie propelled by matter-of-fact professionalism on both sides of the cameras.
Working from a sturdily constructed screenplay credited to Stuart Beattie, James Nicholas, Karel Segers, Paul Sullivan and Jack Brislee, director Kriv Stenders (“Red Dog,” “Kill Me Three Times”) does a fine job of ratcheting up suspense and maintaining a propulsive sense of narrative order as he cuts between various locations and perspectives while recounting the Battle of Long Tan, a 1966 Vietnam War clash that pitted a vastly outnumbered Delta Company of inexperienced Australian and New Zealand troops — most of them 19 to 21 years old — against more than 2,000 battle-hardened Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers.
To be sure, not every perspective is given equal weight. (The Vietnamese fighters, for all their resiliency and formidability, remain little more than faceless abstractions.) But Stenders and his cast do make it relatively easy to discern cause and effect as the battle rages on and near an isolated rubber plantation, and to comprehend the rapid-fire explanation and execution of military tactics while the movie hops back and forth between soldiers pinned down by persistent enemy fire, officers debating drastic measures back at home base, and the crews of fighter jets, artillery units, and armored support vehicles intent on providing support for the besieged D Company.
The chief focus is the edgy relationship between Major Harry Smith (Travis Fimmel), a former Special Forces commando who bitterly resents his new assignment as D Company commander, which he disdainfully describes as “breast-feeding a bunch of kids,” and Paul Large (Daniel Webber), a brash young private who broadcasts his insolence in an early scene by brazenly guzzling beer during a VC attack on their base. (“If your number’s up,” he explains to a gobsmacked fellow soldier, “you might as well get a buzz on.”)
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To say these men are initially antagonistic would be an understatement: After briefly taunting the private with what sounds awfully like Joe Pesci’s intimidating “How am I funny?” query, Large grabs his throat and nearly chokes him. Later, Large is equally brutal in his reaction when he assumes Smith’s order for artillery support caused the deaths of other men.
In the time-tested tradition of war movies, however, Smith and Large become, if not best buddies, then mutually respectful brothers-in-arms. More important, though, is the persuasive manner in which they and other men repeatedly display courage under fire during the several firefights that director Stenders infuses (with crackerjack assistance from cinematographer Ben Nott and Veronika Jenet) with compelling immediacy and jolting chaos. Especially impressive are the skirmishes that occur driving rainstorms — a detail, by the way, that reflects the particulars of the real-life Battle of Long Tan. (The movie was shot on Queensland locations that more than adequately double for South Vietnam.)
Stenders clearly studied previous Vietnam War movies for inspiration. (Rest assured, Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walking” pops up on the soundtrack to establish the ’60s period.) Indeed, it’s equally obvious that Stenders and his screenwriters reviewed war movies from all eras. When a character here starts to talk about his desire to do nothing more than “go home, get married, and forget all this,” well, all he needs is a bull’s-eye painted on his chest to further signal his fate.
But never mind: “Danger Close” emerges as something greater, or at least more potently sincere, than the sum of its second-hand parts. Favorable word of mouth could help it enjoy an extended shelf life on streaming platforms long after it retreats from limited theatrical play.