Admittedly, I don’t know a lot about world history. I mean, I know a few things but I wish I knew more. For example, I knew that America and the Vietnamese were both in the Vietnam War, but I didn’t know that Australia was fighting along side us. I just sort of thought it was only our debacle. Honestly, most everything I know about ‘nam is either from “Platoon“, “Apocalypse Now” or my older co-worker Ron who occasionally brings up hotboxing in a tank or smoking joints with a monkey he picked up somewhere in the jungle. In any event, I learned something new and it’s all because of Synapse Films’ new release of “The Odd Angry Shot“, coming to Blu-Ray and DVD on 8/13. The movie is quite different from American films dealing with the same conflict, in that it has nothing really to say politically… and that made it pretty controversial in Australia.
“The Odd Angry Shot” begins and ends a lot like “The Deer Hunter“. We start at a birthday/bon voyage party for Bill (John Jarratt) who leaves friends, family and a beautiful girl behind as he sets off for Vietnam. What he doesn’t know is that his life is about to change forever. When Bill arrives at camp, he joins fellow soldiers Harry (Graham Kennedy), Bung (John Hargreaves), Rogers (Bryan Brown), Dawson (Graeme Blundell) and Scott (Ian Gilmour) among others. Between missions, the men goof around, play cards and drink beer like they’re having the time of their lives. Their behavior, backed by an upbeat marching band soundtrack evokes an “National Lampoon’s Animal House“-in-the-shit feeling, more than say “M*A*S*H“, but suddenly losing a man in a mortar attack or getting no mail from a loved one, snaps the gents (and the audience) back to reality when you least expect it. Over the course of the film, the platoon realizes just how insignificant they are to their government and the real battle begins: the fight to keep their sense of humor – and their sanity.
With very little being said politically and an ever present frat house mentality, I could see where the Aussies might find something a little bothersome and (possibly?) disrespectful to those who died in that pointless war. That said, director Tom Jeffrey does attempt to show a struggle for the soul of the soldiers while presenting some of the atrocities of war. The characters might be joking on the outside, but each quietly wonders who will be the next to die. It’s an interesting dynamic that is undermined by 2 things: 1) a relatively low budget that dictates small-scale battle scenes significantly less threatening than, say, having to call in a Napalm strike AND 2) deaths and injuries mostly consisting of a man screaming upon being shot, then collapsing – not unlike an 8 year old playing war on the playground. Screaming deaths aside, Jeffrey was able to get good performances from his actors, but it’s apparent they’d been misled by a script lacking sufficient drama. The “if we don’t laugh, we’ll cry” approach feels very much out of balance, focusing more on the “ha-ha’s” than exposing us to the psychological torture these men are likely going through. Without that discomfort, the laughs just aren’t as cathartic and the film is that much less effective.
Synapse did well with this nearly 35 year old title. The picture quality is clean with the exception of what looks like long horizontal lines that every now and again flash through the picture. They look like they could be some sort of scratch and they’re not too distracting from the movie, but I was left wondering how they were overlooked when the rest of the feature looks so good. The sound is a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track that sounds sufficient. If this had been a bigger, more action packed war film, it might’ve been cool to hear the gunfire and warships coming on in at least stereo, but it works for what it is. Extras are a little light, featuring the theatrical trailer and a short featurette titled “Stunts Down Under” with Buddy Joe Hooker. Buddy Joe is an American stuntman who basically tells us that he knew Australia fought in Vietnam and the production flew him out to New South Wales for the production. It’s not going to give you a whole lot of insight into the filmmaking process. However, a commentary with Producer/Director Tom Jeffrey, Producer Sue Milliken and Actor Graeme Blundell does a great job at doing just that.
When all is said and done “The Odd Angry Shot” earns 2 out of 4 angels. It’s not a bad war film by any means, but it somehow just misses the mark. It’s too serious to be a straight comedy and too comedic to be a drama. Perhaps the film is hurt by the passage of time, as moviegoers have been exposed to much heavier realities of war in films like “Saving Private Ryan” and “Full Metal Jacket“, but the idea of soldiers simply trying to cope in the face of disenchantment might make “The Odd Angry Shot” worth your while.