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  Red Dog The people's pooch
Year: 2011
Director: Kriv Stenders
Stars: Koko, Josh Lucas, Rachael Taylor, John Batchelor, Noah Taylor, Arthur Angel, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Loene Carmen, Luke Ford, Rohan Nichol, Tiffany Lyndall-Knight, Costa Ronin, Neil Pigot, Eamon Farren
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Truck driver Thomas (Luke Ford) makes a pit stop at a bar in Dampier, a region of North-western Australia, where he stumbles across owner Jack Collins (Noah Taylor) and his friends Peeto (John Batchelor), Jocko (Rohan Nichol) and Vanno (Arthur Angel) preparing to shoot a dog. Thomas is understandably alarmed till he discovers the dog was already poisoned by some unknown miscreant and the kindly patrons are only out to end its suffering. Problem is, none of the men can bring themselves to kill an animal that has come to mean so much to the residents of Dampier. Beginning with Jack, one by one the townsfolk regale Thomas with tales of Red Dog, his amazing exploits hitchhiking across the Australian outback and beyond and what a difference he made in all their lives.

All the great dog movies are more concerned with people than the kind of asinine animal antics one finds in the lacklustre likes of Beethoven (1992) or Marley & Me (2008). Much like the heartwarming yet understated Because of Winn Dixie (2005), Red Dog concerns a community forming around a canine catalyst. Adapted from the novel by Louis de Bernières, author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, that in turn drew upon a supposedly true story recounted by several indigenous writers, the film was a huge hit in its native Australia usurping Avatar (2009) at the box office. It is not hard to discern why given both Red Dog and his story evoke a hardy, admirable aspect of the Australian character. It is the flipside to Wolf Creek (2005), perhaps the definitive Australian horror film of the decade, wherein the landscape is forever alien, menacing and beyond civilizing. Here, friendship, love, tolerance and other communal values slowly tame the landscape and forge a community that will come to define a nation.

Set in the Seventies, Red Dog is essentially the Australian outback story. At the beginning of the film our group of disparate immigrants (Italian, Polish, Asian, etc.) are homesick and, in some cases, carrying around their own emotional burdens, for example Jocko who lost his wife and daughter in a car crash. By offering unconditional love and companionship, Red Dog awakens these men to the world around them and enables them to forge bonds that lead them to build better lives. Initially, as Vanno observes, Red Dog remains “a dog for everyone but no-one in particular.” This changes when John Grant (Josh Lucas), an affable American drifter, rides into town to take a job as bus driver for the local mining community. Red Dog takes an instant shine to John, especially after he intervenes when some of the rowdier residents push the animal too far. He also sparks a romance between John and the gutsy Nancy (Rachael Taylor) who gives Red Dog a lesson in manners when she snags a seat beside him on the bus. For Johnny, red Dog opens the way to a life of stability alongside Nancy, one that is simultaneously daunting and appealing.

Engaging and at times deeply affecting performances from the ensemble cast coupled with exuberant direction from newcomer Kriv Stenders keep things consistently watchable even on those rare occasions when the plot grows staid. Look out for a number of funny and unexpected references to Jaws (1975) alongside the amusing introduction of Red Cat, a tough, vicious, dog-pounding feline who proves the destructive antithesis of Red Dog. These two eventually face off in a wild west styled showdown climaxing with a charming payoff that will not upset any cat lovers. Above all however, this is a human story. A story of vivid, likeable characters bonding over tall tales and good humour.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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