Review: Red Dog

Red Dog is inspired by a true story of a beloved, wandering Kelpie that won hearts across Western Australia in the 1970s.  Set in the Australian mining town of Dampier where a multitude of nationalities mix, Red Dog is a heart-warming, humorous and touching portrayal of a community’s love for a dog and a dog’s loyalty to his master.  Shot across picturesque Western Aussie landscapes and starring Noah Taylor, Josh Lucas, and Rachael Taylor, Red Dog is endlessly charming and captivating in another fine example of Australian film-making.

Red Dog wanders into UK cinemas on 24 February 2012

A trucker, Thomas (Luke Ford) rolls into Dampier and upon stopping in at the town’s pub, discovers the locals tending to a stricken dog.  Treated by the vet, strychnine poisoning leaves the pooch with a grim prognosis.  As they wait it out, they regale Thomas with accounts of how Red became Australia’s most famous dog.  A series of flashbacks, beginning with publican Jack’s (Mr Taylor) discovery of Red and bringing him into town is followed by an introduction of the international cast of locals, including Vanna (Arthur Angel, providing magnificent support), a homesick Italian who infuriates all with his constant musings of home and Peeto (John Batchelor), a rugged Aussie with a secret, softer side.  Very much an ensemble piece, Red Dog benefits from a terrific cast who all get a chance to shine as the story of Red’s legend is told.  From hitch-hiking to match-making; to life-saving to the arrival of his one, true master- American bus driver John (Lucas), the film creates a wonderful balance of laughter, warmth and sorrow.

There are many bright spots in this nicely crafted tale, including Red’s rivalry with Red Cat that concludes with a fun western style showdown.  The film’s villain, caravan park care-taker Mr Cribbage (Paul Blackwell) is more of a caricature, but serves the purpose well enough.  The writing team of Daniel Taplitz and Louis de Berières apply a measured sentimentality throughout the script, illustrating the impact that Red has on the community without going over-board.  The heavy moments are handled with class and escape feeling forced.  Of course, a great canine film needs a capable star and Red Dog (Koko) is no exception.  Director Kriv Stenders does a fine job in capturing Red’s cheeky, lovable nature.  While beautifully shot and well-paced, Red Dog also benefits from a stellar, rocking soundtrack and utilising Pete Townshend’s “Let My Love Open the Door” for the final scene is a perfect touch.

Red Dog is an excellent animal led film that avoid the pitfalls of heavy-handed sentimentality (takes notes, Mr Spielberg), whilst evoking a range of emotions as the various stories are told.  The back stories manage to be both concise and entertaining in establishing the characters.  This type of careful balance can be found throughout Red Dog, making it a truly enjoyable experience from start to finish.  Smartly cast, the appeal of Red Dog should prove to be wide for this Australian production, as it doesn’t feel exclusively Aussie and its intelligent script makes for great family viewing, adults easily included.  Red Dog is a classy import and up against other current films focused on those with four legs, is easily best of show.  9/10

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About LondonFilmFan

Amateur film critic and photographer residing in sunny London.

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