Color, 1979, 92m.
Directed by Tom Jeffrey
Starring John Jarratt, Bryan Brown, John Hargreaves, Graham Kennedy, Graeme Blundell, Richard Moir, Ian Gilmour
Synapse (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Roadshow (Australia R4 PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
While The Deer Hunter and Coming Home get most of the credit for bringing the Vietnam War experience to movie screens in America, another country involved in the same conflict, Australia, offered its own exceptional take on the controversial subject shortly afterwards with The Odd Angry Shot. Though it didn't reach American shores until much later on home video thanks to the success of Platoon, the film was a success in its native country and paved the way for future Aussie war films like Gallipoli, The Lighthorsemen, and The Siege of Firebase Gloria among others, which utilized some of its approach in different time periods.
Less a traditional narrative and more of a gritty look at a period in time, the film is largely told through the eyes of young Bill (Jarratt), who leaves his life and girl at home to go off to war in 1967. He's guided into his tour of duty by an older mentor, Harry (TV personality Kennedy), and thanks to copious amounts of beer, bonds with fellow servicemen including Rogers (a pre-FX Bryan Brown), Dawson (Alvin Purple's Blundell), and Bung (the late Hargreaves from Long Weekend). They make patrols together through the jungle, navigate land mines, and scramble through fire fights with the Viet Cong, interspersed with encounters with American soldiers and the occasional brawl or two. However, the survivors don't exactly get the heroes' welcome they expected at home, leading to additional bonding of a more melancholy kind.
The dramatic leap in Australia's movie output in the 1970s produced a number of remarkable titles ranging from the art house to the grindhouse, with this one falling somewhere in between. It's probably closest in tone to the raucous Don's Party from three years earlier (also starring Hargreaves), which also combined rowdy humor, drama, and political outrage, but the Vietnam setting gives it a fresh angle that will still be new for many viewers. All of the familiar actors are excellent here, with Jarratt carrying leading man duties squarely on his shoulders; already a veteran from such films as Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Great MacArthy, he would settle into a long career with a surprising rebirth as a horror and cult favorite as the maniac in Wolf Creek (with additional roles in Rogue and Django Unchained for good measure). (Don't miss his great 1987 killer crocodile epic Dark Age either.)
Thanks to both the stardom of Bryan Brown (who quickly went on to Breaker Morant and The Thorn Birds, and later the immortal Cocktail) and the sudden surge of interest in Vietnam films, The Odd Angry Shot bowed on American VHS from Vestron in 1984 and remained a mainstay on mom and pop shelves for several years. Unfortunately the transfer was pretty lousy, drained of most of its color and brutally cropped on all four sides. In 2003 an Australian DVD finally surfaced in a widescreen edition, featuring much better (albeit somewhat oversaturated) colors and considerable additional picture info (including a pretty surprising shot of Brown in the group shower scene reframed on the American tape). The DVD also includes an audio commentary (more on that in a minute), a minor "Script to Screen Dossier" look at the film's transition from the source novel by William L. Nagle (who also wrote Firebase Gloria), and the theatrical trailer.
Ten years later, a 2013 American revisit finally came from Synapse Films with separate Blu-ray and DVD editions. The former is definitely preferable as it looks simply fantastic; the color balance is by far the best to date, and the leap in detail is stunning as you can make out fine details in the foliage of the jungle scenes and every drop of condensation on each can of Foster's. The DTS-HD mono track sounds good for what's basically a limited track consisting of dialogue, sparse background music, and infrequent gunshots and explosions. The Aussie commentary track is carried over here, with Blundell, producer/director Tom Jeffrey, and producer Sue Milliken chatting about the film's production including its low budget, the challenges of recreating Vietnam locales around Queensland, and various hijinks on the set with the cast and crew. The trailer is included (along with reversible cover art featuring a design closer to the Australian DVD), and a nice new extra is thrown in as well. Clocking in just under seven minutes, "Stunts Down Under" from Red Shirt Pictures features genial American stunt man and second unit director Buddy Joe Hooker talking about his work on this film (including the memorable group fight scene), which fell in between his stints on projects like Hooper and Sharky's Machine. A stellar release all around, this should hopefully earn a new generation of admirers for a rewarding, memorable look at Vietnam from a different cinematic perspective.
Buy from Diabolik DVD
Reviewed on August 8, 2013.