Written and Directed by: Tom Jeffrey
Starring: Graham Kennedy, Bryan Brown, John Hargreaves, John Jarratt, Graeme Blundell, Ian Gilmour, Richard Moir, Graham Rouse
Movies like The Deer Hunter, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse Now, and Hamburger Hill have argued that the American soldier’s experience in Vietnam in a word, sucked. The Odd Angry Shot makes the statement that the war sucked for the Aussies too. Not that there was really any doubt. Never mind the politics; justified, unjustified, necessary, unnecessary, war sucks.
The Odd Angry Shot starts out with a party. It’s a dual celebration, the cake reads Happy Birthday and Bon Voyage. It’s Bill’s, John Jarratt, birthday and send off party. Tomorrow he is heading to Vietnam, but not before he gets a shaving kit from his Grandmother and LP of Peter, Paul and Mary’s Leaving on a Jetplane from a joking friend who creepily asks Bill to “get one for me”, but best of all he gets an intimate send off from his girlfriend who promises to write. The next morning Bill meets up with the rest of his unit. There is Bung, played by John Hargreaves, and Bryan Brown plays Rogers who are just as young as Bill but an order of magnitude crazier. Then there is Harry, personified by Graham Kennedy, who is the older more experienced corporal. After a bit of catching up they board a Quantas 707 (get the Leaving on a Jetplane gag now?) and take off for Vietnam. The next time we see Bill he’s complaining that he’s been in the country for a week and hasn’t had a chance to use his rifle yet. On his way back to his unit’s tent he’s covered in mud from a passing truck, but that’s alright because the heavens then open up and the rain comes down like it’s being sprayed out of a water truck. Not a shot has been fired in anger and already Vietnam is miserable. Bill soon finds out worse stuff than rain comes out of the sky. When the rain stops the mortars start and Bill gets his first look at the ugly side of war.
Bill is the young naïve character the viewer is supposed to identify with but as the group settles into a routine of camp life and patrols through the jungle Harry starts to stand out as the main character of the movie. He’s older, more experienced and maybe wiser. He can calm men down and cheer them up, but he doesn’t stoop to blowing sunshine, well you know where. When a soldier gets both feet blown off by a land mine Harry reassure him that he will live, but “there’ll be no more tap-dancing for you mate”. Bung and Rogers are the other two main players. They are both a little touched but more than competent soldiers and provide a bit of humor and pathos. The movie bounces back and forth between the humorous antics of the guys trying to deal with boredom at the base with beer and pranks and the boredom punctuated by terror that is patrol.
In a way the episodic nature reminds me a lot of MASH without Altman’s surrealism. There is never any doubt where the story is heading and the only question is what the butcher’s bill will be. The most interesting aspect of the story is its lack of politics. By the time the Australians pulled out of Vietnam the war was just as unpopular there as it was in the US, but beyond a few offhand comments The Odd Angry Shot makes no statement whatsoever about whether Australia’s involvement in the conflict was a good idea or bad. The most political the film gets is a couple of rants about class that would have fit in just as well in a movie about miners or factory workers. The directing is strong. The shot composition is always interesting without being showy or gimmicky. There are a few shots of the group moving silently through the forest that are amazing. The acting is a not quite up to the level of the direction. The cast does an acceptable job but Kennedy, Hargreaves and Brown are so good everyone else’s performance just looks a little bland.
The film is presented in 1080p with a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio. It looks fantastic like you would expect a Blu Ray movie to look. The image is sharp and there are gobs of details even in the shadows. You do pay for the detail with a bit of grain but it’s worth it. The transfer was made from a good print, I never noticed any spots or tears or other defects or any digital artifacts like aliasing or moiré either for that matter.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD 2.0 Mono in English only. There are no subtitles available. The dialog is always intelligible, but the mix with the score is sometimes a little odd. There are scenes where the score sounds far away and it’s not obvious whether this is an artistic choice or just a problem with the sound.
The Packaging and Bonus Features:
The disc comes in a standard Blu Ray case and has a fantastic double sided slip cover. The artwork sells the movie as a bit pulpier than it really is, but it’s cool so I’ll let that pass. There is a featurette about Australian stunt work in the late seventies and the obligatory trailer. There is also an audio commentary with the director Tom Jeffrey, the producer Sue Milliken and one of the actors Graeme Blundell. The commentary is informative though it does tend to devolve into them discussing why nobody would ever do a movie this way now instead of just concentrating on how they did it. Still it’s worth a listen.
Overall (not an average):
I thought an interesting aspect of The Odd Angry Shot would be to see an Australian take on the Vietnam conflict but the story is such a universal tale of camaraderie and the wastefulness of war that it really had to fall back on the story itself and the characters. Luckily for The Odd Angry Shot the direction and the performances by Kennedy, Hargreaves and Brown make it worth a look.