Red Dog is based on the true story of a dog that became a legend in Australia for travelling through the Pilbara region in search of his master; he was taken in by many on his travels, was well-loved and even had a statue planted in his honour.
This film takes what can be seen as a conventional ‘tear-jerker’ and handles it with a refreshing quirkiness and vibrancy that prevents the rather simplistic story line from becoming ‘clichéd, whilst also managing to convey a sense of romanticism and warmth that never becomes trite.
Director Kriv Stenders tells Red’s story from the perspective of the miners of Dampier, and it is within this community that the film spends the majority of its time. It is fortunate then that the variety of colourful characters that populate this community are a joy to be around, their quirky sense of humour becoming the lifeblood of the film.
Red Dog opens fairly conventionally, with Thomas (Luke Ford) arriving in the main bar of the miners settlement in the heart of the Australian outback, he is there to deliver a statue of English explorer William Dampier but is treated instead to the tale of Red Dog.
This rather unimaginative opening is uncharacteristic of a film which has a terrific energy and enthusiasm, filled with clever pieces of editing and beautiful cinematography. A wonderful example of this is a Sergio Leone inspired confrontation between Red Dog and his mortal enemy Red Cat. This sequence is a good demonstration of the films main strengths, it illustrates the movie’s sense of humour in its playful rehashing of the wild west shoot-out, whilst treating us to some fantastic shots of the Australian Landscape. It also adds some of its own ideas, such as using cartoonish techniques within a live action sequence; the cat and dog become a blur as they fly around the campsite in which the fight takes place.
Red Dog himself is charismatic and incredibly likeable and ranks up there with Lassie as an admirable pooch. He also acts as a pillar that holds together the characters of the Dampier mining settlement and their different interweaving story lines.
A warning, though, this film is not all smiles, and will tug at the heart strings, so you may want to come to the cinema with a box of tissues handy. This is credit to the performances of Josh Lucas (who plays John Gant, the man who becomes the true master of Red Dog) and Rachel Taylor. The subtly of their performances gives the sadder moments of the film a real emotional gravitas. Also, Arthur Angel (Vanno) and John Bachelor (Peeto) deserve acknowledgement for some moments of superb comic timing.
Overall, some may find the film’s romanticism grating but it would take a hardened soul not to be taken in by the film’s warmth. It does occasionally veer into a few clichés, e.g. montages of romantic Super 8 footage, but it more than makes up for these lapses of originality with vibrancy and energy.
In the end, this film is about more than a dog; it is about the ability of people to form meaningful relationships and establish a sense of community even in areas as desolate and isolated as a mining settlement in the middle of the Australian Outback. Red Dog may not be a masterpiece of incredible complexity, but it’s funny, intelligent, sensitive and well worth a watch.