The Controversy Over What Really Happened At Long Tan Tackled In This Gripping Film
DANGER CLOSE is the retelling of some four to five hours in August 1966 in a Vietnamese rubber plantation called Long Tan, where young and inexperienced Australian and New Zealand soldiers fought for their lives when they were isolated against 2500 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers. The film is about the bravery of these young men who were drafted by the Australian Army for a war as unpopular with the Australian public as it was with some of the American public.
“THESE BOOTS ARE MADE FOR WALKIN’ AND THAT’S JUST WHAT THEY’LL DO.”
Nancy Sinatra’s hit, which overlays the movie DANGER CLOSE, is not just an ode to the 60’s era in which the battle of Long Tan takes place, but was adapted as the actual theme song for the Australian soldiers of the Delta Company of the 6th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment, which also features pair of digger’s boots on the unit’s logo.
In reality, there has been some controversy over the what really happened at Long Tan, as the official report filed by the soldier’s superiors has been contested by the men who fought that day. This is an attempt to tell the story through the eyes of the men of D Company, and not as written up by their superior officers. In their estimation, certain officers who later took credit for the victory were responsible for ignoring intelligence reports that placed D Company in the dangerous position in the first place, leaving 18 dead and 24 wounded.
Travis Fimmel plays the part of Major Harry Smith, who reluctantly commanded the 108-strong D Company, saying “he found himself breast-feeding a bunch of kids.” The real Maj. Smith has actively campaigned for the proper recognition from the Australian Government for the men of D Company for year, asking for Gallantry awards, but many of these were downgraded from the original nomination. Luke Bracey plays prickly-pear Sgt. Bob Buick, who took the leadership role in the battle after his commanding officer was shot during the battle. Sgt. Buick has written a book about the battle called All Guts and No Glory: The Story of a Long Tan Warrior.
Both actors downplay their role in deference to the men they played, which they regard as real heroes.
In this interview with Luke Bracey, we find out more about how it felt to portray these men.
Interview by Christine Thompson
AMFM: Did you have a chance to speak with Sgt. Bob Buick before you took on the role in DANGER CLOSE?
Luke Bracey: There’s a fantastic resource on the Australian War Memorial website where a number of veterans from World War II all the way through to present day, sit down in front of a camera and tell their life story. Bob had done one of them, a great four, five hour video of Bob sitting down in front of a camera and talking about his life, from the start in South Africa and moving to Australia when he was small.
That was one of the greatest resources for me, just to hear of his life outside of Vietnam, which I think is really important. It gave me an insight into who he was as a person, and outside of the prickly nature that he’s depicted as having in the film. That (nature) comes from a place of him being a career soldier, having joined the army at 18, and then suddenly at age 26 being in charge of a bunch of young men who were about 20. They were conscripted and didn’t want to be there. His hard nature came from his desire to make sure these guys got home. He knew that it took discipline and rules and regulations to make it through.
Bob is so interesting – and such a great guy. I was lucky enough to spend time with his family and him just before we saw the film and after they viewed it. To have him and his family say that I did a good job was a weight off my shoulders and really special moment for me was when his son and his family say “we understand our dad a bit more after seeing this.” That was more than I could have hoped for.
AMFM : This battle was very, very important one in the whole process and a starting point. And yet it’s still controversial as to whether it was considered a defeat or whether it was considered a victory based on who it is you talk to What does it still mean to the Australian people, this portrayal of their men in a very unpopular war?
Luke Bracey: It was very similar to the US experience… when these guys came back, many of them being conscripted and not having any say in the matter…they were just wanting to survive. Then to come back and be shunned by not just the greater public, but also their fathers who were veterans of world war two.
It was a really beautiful thing that we could give them this story finally, and not focus on the political aspects of it, just focus on their experience as young men. This is four hours of their life that occurred 50 years ago that still affects them every day. We are really proud of the film, we just wanted to show these guys stories and give people the chance to see their experience. To show that they just wanted to help get their mates home. It was about looking after the guy next to you and trying to make sure that he got home as well as yourself. That’s what I really love about this film. It’s a very grounded and very honest portrayal of young, ordinary men doing extraordinary things.
AMFM: Most military men from that era, they do not subscribe to today’s political correctness.They can seem like grumpy old men, but people don’t realize that they’ve sacrificed for a greater cause. What do you hope for this film to do? What is your, what are your best expectations for what this film can do? T
Luke Bracey: I want this film to show ordinary men put in an extraordinary situation It’s more than brotherhood. it’s this idea that we’re all looking out for each other. A bunch of 20 year old men who had no choice in the matter and didn’t want to be there, had to sacrifice so much and go through some awful moments in their life, the worst that anyone can ever imagine. This film can show that the tremendous will and the tremendous kind of love that can be found in such an awful place, the love of your fellow man, the mate next to you. The idea of sacrifice and that there are many things that are bigger than us and what’s bigger than us is the bloke next to you. It was a travesty that these young men had the kind of innocence taken from him that at such a young age with absolutely no say so.
AMFM: Are they still conscripting soldiers in Australia?
Luke Bracey: there’s no conscription in Australia anymore, it’s all volunteer. But one of the great things we had on the film was all Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. So young men that actually had been in the service. They were on set with us every day. It was fantastic just to be able to talk to these guys. I became mates with a lot of them and I’m still in contact with them as well. Being surrounded by them is a bit daunting. But to have them to say, “Hey, good work. thank you for doing this, you’re doing a great job.” We found out that we were not just telling the story of the veterans of Long Tan, but that these guys were really happy that we were telling an Australian story in general