When The Odd Angry Shot was released in 1979, it came in for a good deal of misdirected critical flak because it wasn’t a different kind of film about Vietnam. It was chided for not mounting a more obvious case against Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam war.
The point that was often missed by reviewers brandishing their own liberal sensibilities was that The Odd Angry Shot is less a war film than a study – often played for comedy – of a group of soldiers coping with boredom and each other.
Its concern is not so much to offer a critique of the Vietnam war as to examine certain kinds of Australian male humour and camaraderie in circumstances that increasingly place a great strain on these qualities. The best of the film is in the way it eventually finds these qualities inadequate.
A small group of the Special Air Services Regiment, 21 Patrol, led by the cynical Harry (superbly played by Graham Kennedy) who is in flight from a broken marriage, is joined by another Australian, Bung (John Hargreaves) when his own group is disbanded.
The members of 21 Patrol – including Bill (John Jarratt), Rogers (Bryan Brown), Dawson (Graeme Blundell), and Scott (Ian Gilmour) – spend their time playing cards, drinking beer, nursing their tinea and making jokes about masturbation and ‘queens’.
From time to time, they are sent off on a raiding party; they take leave in Saigon; they receive the odd disturbing piece of news from home; and in a final skirmish around a bridge, Bung is killed and the others exact revenge on the Viet Cong.
The Odd Angry Shot starred a strong male ensemble and provided a comic, sometimes moving, account of the Australian experience in the Vietnam war – although the film is actually an adaptation of an autobiographical novel by a US Vietnam veteran by the name of Bill Nagle, who people assumed had been in the SAS. It eventually turned out he had been an army cook.
The last scene, in which Harry and Bill sit silently in a bar overlooking Sydney Harbour, shows the Centrepoint Tower clearly visible on the skyline – Construction did not begin on the tower until the latter years of the 70’s – many years after the final Australian troops were home from Vietnam.