The Odd Angry Shot is a modest film, not large enough to match its ambition. Australia’s first film set during the Vietnam War (made in 1979), it tries to be a traditional war genre movie - with jungle sorties, rec. leave in Saigon, choppers and tragic deaths. But at its best, it’s a character study - a portrait of Australian masculinity under pressure.It traces a yearlong tour of duty of a SAS patrol in 1969. Although based on William Nagle’s award-winning autobiographical novel, it widens the perspective from author surrogate Bill (John Jarratt) to that of the whole ensemble, played with believable camaraderie by Graham Kennedy, John Hargreaves, Graeme Blundell, Bryan Brown and Richard Moir.
A key theme is that the men’s presence in Vietnam was futile. All they see is “the odd angry shot”, though often with devastating consequences. The final scene is set in Sydney. Kennedy and Jarratt meet for a drink but, after denying to the bartender they were in the war and commenting how Sydney looks the same, have nothing to say to each other. It’s an ending for a smaller film and it introduces the wider political context of public attitude to the war too late.Unfortunately, the film is also episodic and suffers a fatal lack of focus and narrative drive. Perhaps director-adaptor Tom Jeffrey should have stuck with Bill’s perspective - the smaller scale of the film is more acceptable as one man’s view of the war and would have seemed less of an attempt at a representative view of Australian involvement.