By Richard Winters
My Rating: 5 out of 10
4-Word Review: Aussie soldiers in Vietnam.
Based on the novel of the same name by William Nagle, who wrote about his actual experiences fighting in Vietnam as part of the Australian army, the story centers on a small group of Aussie men who go to a war that they feel they have no business being in. The story centers on Harry (Graham Kennedy) a bitter middle-aged man who believes his country doesn’t care whether he lives or dies, Bill (John Jarrat) who faces army life for the first time, and Rogers (Bryan Brown) who must deal with crippling injuries when he steps on a landmine as well as Bung (John Hargreaves) who goes through tremendous grief after receiving heartbreaking news in a letter from back home.
To some extent the film features a fresh take as most other movies dealing with the Vietnam War were done from the U.S. perspective and many people may not even realize that Australia had involvement in the conflict and at one point over 7,000 troops stationed there. However, the tone is confusing as it wants to be irreverent like M*A*S*H at certain intervals while at other times more like Apocalypse Now. Some of the amusing moments do work particularly the scene where the U.S. soldiers challenge the Aussies to a contest to see if a deadly spider can kill a scorpion and then having the spider take on the scorpion inside a dish pan that you get to see close-up, which is pretty cool. There’s even some weird imagery involving a dream that Bill has, which is visually arresting. While these scenes are passively entertaining they also make the story come-off as meandering and pointless. The concept may have been to show how boring the war experience can be, but this still needed to be done in a way that kept things gripping, which ultimately the film isn’t.
Having the story center around one main character would’ve prevented this. Initially it starts off like Bill is that person by showing his going-away-party with his friends and family, but then once the setting changes to Vietnam he isn’t seen much and if anything Harry becomes the main star. Observing how Bill’s perspective and personality evolved and become more hardened as the war progressed could’ve been intriguing, but the film fails to deliver. With the exception of Harry there’s not much distinction between the other men in the group, which impedes the viewer from ever becoming emotionally invested in any of them and thus less impactful overall.
The way the violence gets portrayed is interesting as it occurs at random periods without warning. The group can be having a lighthearted time one minute only to be doused with enemy fire the next, which helps recreate the reality of battle where death and destruction can be sudden and unexpected. This put me as a viewer quite on edge, but the characters never reflected that same unease, or by seeing their comrades dying, or injured changed them in any way even though I felt it should’ve.
On the technical end it effectively looks like it was shot on-location even though it really wasn’t. Dramatically though it suffers from not have a centralized character and a vague point-of-view.
My Rating: 5 out of 10
Released: March 1, 1979
Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes
Director: Tom Jeffrey
Studio: Roadshow Films
Available: DVD, Blu-ray