- Released: Thursday, 04 August 2011
- Runtime: 92 mins
Roadshow. 4 August 2011.
Starring: Josh Lucas, Rachael Taylor, Noah Taylor, Luke Ford, John Batchelor, Arthur Angel, Rohan Nichol and Koko.
Directed by Kriv Stenders.Rated PG (Mild themes, coarse language and sexual references). 92 minutes. IMDb.
ReviewMove over Lassie! Film reviewing is largely a matter of informed taste, plus a commitment to objectivity, which at times can be sorely tested. This is one of those times. I confess to having had a scotch collie called Laddie when growing up, who was the spitting image of screen-idol Lassie, and today I am the besotted owner of a Red Dog look-alike who responds with love and loyalty to the name of Stella (named for Streetcar Named Desire) when I call her. So don't expect me not to be a tad prejudiced when reviewing Red Dog, although I will try.
Red Dog is based on the children's book written by English novelist Louis de Bernières, after he visited the Pilbara region in Western Australia in 1998. Inspired by the bronze statue of a stray dog who became a legend in the port town of Dampier and beyond, Bernières collected stories about Red Dog, his travels and adventures, funny and sad, and the people far and wide who knew and loved him.
These anecdotes begin in 1969 when the Pilabra region and its mines was a Mecca for men from all over the world, looking for well-paid but arduous work. And skilfully scripted in the form of a 'wake' that looks back over Red Dog's history and his impact on the Dampier community until his death in 1979, these stories provide without undue sentimentality, a cinematic monument to not just Red Dog, but the symbiotic relationship that has existed between dogs and people since almost the beginning of human history.
Often films about dogs and other animals over-anthropomorphise their characters. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Animals like humans are sentient beings, and our attitude and treatment of them, good and bad, tells us much about our values.
But the joy of Red Dog is that the filmmakers have turned their back on Hollywood, and chosen to tell this uniquely Australian tale about Red Dog and his robust companions of the Pilbara in a storytelling style that harks back to the unashamedly ocker style of such 70s films as Sunday Too Far Away, where larger than life characterisations rub shoulders with wry humour, tall tales and earthy realism.
There is much to admire in Red Dog. Much searching led to the singular find of Koko who plays the independent, idiosyncratic Red Dog with extraordinary expressiveness. Eat your heart out, Kommissar Rex. And if anyone doubts this, then go online (if you haven't already), and check out 'Koko's Screen test".
The human actors perform well too, with the cast at times providing collective commentary on events past and present, in the orchestrated manner of a Greek chorus. Josh Lucas (The Lincoln Lawyer) is engaging as the American newcomer who Red Dog selects as his 'owner', as are Rachael Taylor (Transformers) as Lucas' love interest, John Batchelor as the knockabout Peeto, and Rohan Nichol as Jocko, whose life Red Dog saves.
In a welcome return to the screen, Noah Taylor (Shine, The Proposition) plays the Pilbara pub owner, Jack, while there is also is a quick cameo performance by the late Bill Hunter as a drinker at Jack's bar.
Director Kriv Stenders (The Illustrated Family Doctor) has notched up a winner with his strong, sure direction, and in this he is more than ably helped by Geoffrey Hall's shimmering cinematography, which captures so magnificently the land inhabited by Red Dog and the people he knew.