Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Danger Close - A Review

Pic courtesy Sydney Morning Herald

This is my attempt, gentle reader, at a movie review.
Back in the day, we called them “pictures”, but that was a long time ago.

The movie is Danger Close, the recently released account of the Battle of Long Tan on 18th August 1966.

The story resonates with me for a number of reasons.

I went to school at Downlands with Frank Topp, who was killed in the opening few minutes of the battle. He is represented by a few seconds of footage when he is marched into D Company as a reinforcement on the morning of the 18th August. In the movie, he's one of the two diggers given a briefing about the reputation of Harry Smith's crew as he arrives.

I copped a bit of bullying at Downlands in 1961 when I started as a skinny fourteen year-old. I was a schoolies son from North Queensland, not the offspring of a wealthy land holder from the Western Downs, as a fair proportion of my school mates were at the time. Frank, for reasons I’ve never really understood, acted frequently as my protector.

He was well built and burly, so they left me alone. Perhaps the fact that his old man was a small crop farmer from Helidon, rather than a cow cockie from a big holding helped. We were both on the outer.

Frank left Downlands (as I did) at the end of 1962, and joined the army as an apprentice in RAEME. He became fascinated by the warries he began to hear about Vietnam, and transferred to Infantry. He arrived in Vietnam on the 16th July 1966, and was marched into D Coy 6 RAR on the morning of the battle. He didn’t have time to get to know the diggers he died with.

I was first in Long Tan in April 1970, when as a member of B Coy 7 RAR and a Nasho on his second operation in country, we were trucked there and harboured up near that famous rubber plantation until dark. Then we moved on foot through the night into our AO along a dry creek bed called the Suoi Lo O Nho. It was a bugger of a trip.

I also visited the site as a tourist in 2007 with my two sons. That was a much more rewarding experience, But it’s a sombre place.

The movie was well worth watching, irrespective of my experience of the history. It's production is slick, and the cinematography is first class.

The narrative is obviously based on the record, but there were a few incidents written in that, as far as I know, never occurred. There is a short cameo about a VC sniper in a woodcutters hut, as well as another involving two Vietnamese women which I doubt ever happened. It doesn't matter. They don’t detract.

The performances were generally pretty good, especially that of Travis Fimmel who played Harry Smith (OC D Coy) and Daniel Webber who played private Paul Large. There is a back story involving their relationship which may, or may not be accurate. Again, it doesn't matter and provides some diversion from the heavy themes of endurance, courage and loyalty in the face of impossible odds embedded in the narrative. 

The sound and fury of the artillery which was the conclusive element in the outcome is well conveyed, as is the on-the-ground minute by minute ordeal of the diggers.

The production team did a good job of reproducing a rubber plantation (a paulownia plantation at Wooroolin near Kingaroy) and the background landscape captured the Long Tan area pretty well, although I reckon the soil wasn’t quite red enough. Maybe they should have done some shooting on the Atherton Tablelands, where the contrasting red soil and green vegetation mimic Phouc Tuy.

It's very much a Queensland product. Apart from the rubber plantation scenes at Kingaroy, filming was also done in the Gold Coast hinterland near Nerang and at the Village Roadshow studios at Oxenford.

I could carry on about the authenticity and accuracy of representations of kit such as weapons, webbing, packs, but I won't. The weapons were spot on, as far as I could tell, but we never carried F1s. This was set four years before my time, and perhaps they were phased out by then.

The choppers confused me a little. They looked like the UH-1B, shorter than the UH-1H that I was familiar with. Perhaps the B series were replaced by the H series between 1966 and 1970. I'd welcome any guidance from chopper nerds on that. 

Again, it matters not. They made all the right noises. 

Apparently getting the movie going financially was a close-run thing.  It has that in common with the battle, which could have ended in complete disaster.

I'm glad it was made. Kriv Stenders (director) deserves kudos for actually getting it to screen.

It's a story that had to be told.

And that is was made in Australia, by Australians, is gratifying.

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