Australian films tend to fall into one of two categories: depressing, or ocker (stereotypically Aussie in a ‘G’Day mate’ sort of way*). ”Red Dog” definitely falls in the latter category, despite the fact that it is a tearjerker worthy of teenage girls watching ”Romeo + Juliet”. For a pretty typical ‘dog’ movie where wackiness often ensues, it shouldn’t work, but it does. It is a surprisingly affecting film.
The source material no doubt contributes in that it was based on a true story of a dog that united an isolated community. Set in northern Western Australia in 1971 this was a mining area long before the mining boom of the last decade. It is not just an Australian story though as it recognises the rich tapestry of accents salaries like mining can afford to attract. A funny Italian, Polish, Swede, and, of course, an American. To serve the US accent is Josh Lucas, who provides the necessary charisma and gravitas required to believe that Red Dog, who answered to no master, would finally chase after one when his character John rode into town on his motorbike. Red Dog was a wanderer, as was John, and when John finally concedes to being tied to Red Dog, it is a really nice moment that really sets the film up for a higher filmgoing experience.
The first half of the film plays to the quirkiness you would expect from Aussies, but it is in the second, more serious half of the film that it really shines. The cinematography througout is superb, the music of the era perfect, and when the emotions catch up it is quite breathtaking. I have not heard choking up in a cinema audience this bad since I was a teenager watching Baz Luhrmann’s ”Romeo + Juliet”. This audience was not teenage.
The acting is terrific, and Rachael Taylor, as the love interest, embodies the pretty girl with more depth than you would expect. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but the movie calls into question our relationships with animals, what comfort and loyalty they can provide, and what they know about death and mortality.
”Red Dog” is a cute, playful, and sometimes tragic story that is beautifully filmed, well acted and affecting. The real star of course is Koko who plays Red Dog. You never second guess what Red Dog is feeling because it is right there on the screen, and I’ve seen enough dog movies to know this is quite an achievement.
This movie is not for everyone as it is quite innocent and child-like in nature, and it will be interesting to see how it is perceived overseas – if it gets that chance, but it is so nice to see a high production value Australian film done well.
See it if you can, and maybe more high production Australian films like this can be made.
*I don’t talk like this. Nobody I know talks like this. Despite what we like we like foreigners to believe, 90 per cent of Australians live in cities and don’t know how to shear sheep or wrestle crocodiles. Stubby holders do come in handy though, I’ll give you that)