Red Dog

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Review by Jane Freebury

Based on a tall tale with a bit of truth to it, this is a home-grown version of the story of the dog that will follow its master anywhere, and he really did exist. There’s a statue of him in Dampier, the town where he was most at home, and books about him too, including one by British author Louis de Bernières who is of course author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. In its way Red Dog, based on the de Bernières book, is a touching love story too, of the doggy devotional variety.

Back in the good old days in 1971, a kelpie cross arrived in the mining community of Dampier in our far north-west. He was a cheeky dog, a “pushy bloke” some would say, that hitched a ride into town with the publican and his wife and then hung around the nissen huts becoming everyone’s friend and nobody’s pet in particular

One of the many likeable things about this Kriv Stenders film is the feisty community of multicultural characters who the films treats with quizzical amusement, along with the locals of the Karratha. Under the blazing sun, covered with fine red dust, every man is equal, except perhaps for the invisible representatives of Hamersley Iron whose presence we feel but do not see.

Red Dog was so popular with the locals that they made him an honorary member of the union and he became the community mascot. Until one day a stranger on a motorbike rode into town and Red chose him for his master. This man John (Josh Lucas) is an American and I expect the filmmakers are hoping the film will travel with a name actor from the US. A familiar ploy though it is for a moment a bit cringe-worthy. Not that the north-west then and now doesn’t attract people from everywhere in the world, and it’s funny seeing most everyone stripped down to the common denominator – tank tops, sunhats and regulation stubbies – in the workplace.

One of the very best things about this new film from Stenders (Boxing Day, Lucky Country) is the clever way it has rounded up some of old Aussie clichés and delivered them sparkly and new, crisply and amusingly edited by the sure hand of Jill Bilcock. The script is good too, pulling back on sentiment and ensuring we get the most out of the humour. Nor is a wandering dog an excuse for extended location scenes of the outback to remind us of our heartland.

PG films don’t often come along as good as this. For an interview with the star, I would recommend the clip of Stenders talking Koko through his ‘lines’. Find it on the IMDb website.

In a capsule: A tall but true tale about a kelpie-cross that became part of the community in the mining town of Dampier in the 1970s. At once familiar and fresh, this is entertainment for everyone.

4 stars