The Australian involvement in this war morphed from a few advisors to thousands of soldiers, within a few years, sent in to aid the South Vietnamese (and the American forces) in staunching the flow of communism throughout South East Asia. As far as Australian Vietnam films I'd say this is the only one I've heard of until I blind bought it a few months back. Australia has churned out a few good to great war films, from Gallipoli to Breaker Morant to the one where a young couple out on vacation have to do battle with encroaching nature. What was that called again?
Anyway, this is a pretty good one. It's not a downer ((that may have changed if these guys had seen Apocalypse Now, but they were still feeling the influence / rush of things like M.A.S.H. (Korean War, but really it was Vietnam) and The Green Berets, I guess.)) It's more of a melancholic romp (I swear, that's the only way I can think to describe it) about the dying of youth (figuratively, literally, etc). The comedy feels weird tonally in that it doesn't actually mesh all that well with some of the hard hitting stuff. Basically, every scene back at their base feels like they're taking some R & R. They drink, play cards, and, yes, force a scorpion to fight a spider to the death (it's real and I won't spoil the winner). I wonder if the rompy stuff back at the base is just a cultural thing? They kill time by crushing beers (they were actually crushing beers on the flight to the war) and just goofing around, having fun. The darkness is there, of course. We see the jungle of Queensland (standing in for the jungle of Vietnam) just past the outskirts of their camp. American films tend to portray the "killing of time" a little differently (Willard shit-faced, punching mirrors, Barnes & O'neill shit-faced playing a not-even-a-little-fun game of cards, etc). Sometimes, the American portrayal of killing time involves sitting around, silent contemplation, bored-out-of-one's mind -- I'm thinking of something like Jarhead or, hell, The Thin Red Line. Point is, there's a darkness to the American "killing time" that is slapped on the screen. The Odd Angry Shot might be interesting, in part, because it buries that darkness beneath youthful mirth.
The movie is not without trauma, some of it massive. The first night, their base is shelled and soldiers are killed, horrifically (thankfully, this picture does not linger on the gore -- or even show it, really). Later, a central character gets shot in the jungle (the snap of gunfire and he quickly falls) and dies (unseen) while being choppered out. The soldiers find out about it later, pour a few more Fosters down their throats for him. Another character receives news from home that his mother and wife were both killed in a car wreck. Sargent Harry (He and Bill have a pre-war bond and together, they are the film's focus) laments a disintegrating marriage and also dreads the return home for reasons outside of his failed marriage (he does not believe they will be well received, a theme echoed in the films of almost every war film about Vietnam, and since Vietnam). Graham Kennedy is tremendous as Harry and he and Jarratt form a likable pair. We believe they've been friends for years. The supporting cast is great, with Bryan Brown (a decade before Coughlin's laws would become a part of the American experience) the standout as another soldier. Tom Jeffrey, the director, spent most of his career working in Australian TV. He directed a few other films (The Removalists, Weekend of Shadows, The Best of Friends, and Fighting Back), none of which I'm familiar with.
This is how the movie moves along, pleasantly and not-so-pleasantly rambling from trauma to killing time, getting drunk, and being young men. When I first started the picture, I made the mistake of playing the trailer (it was an accident). The trailer is glorious but it tells the entire picture in a wonderfully dated song (seriously, seek it out of Youtube). I honestly thought I was watching the opening of the picture. I sat there, gobsmacked. Everything gets spoiled (from Scott's death to Bill feeling some breasts at his going away party). Music ends up playing an important and "on the nose" part in the film. I could have probably done without Peter, Paul, and Mary's rendition of "Leaving on a Jet Plane" reappearing throughout (though, it certainly ups the melancholic quotient). Also, that was a hit song! I guess that's where most of the budget went. The final shot of Bill and Harry, back home after a five month tour, sitting in a bar, overlooking an Australian port and wondering "what now?" is...it's pretty powerful. This is an undeservedly underseen picture.