Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Kriv Stenders
Stars: Josh Lucas, Luke Ford, Rachael Taylor, John Batchelor, Arthur Zngel, Noah Taylor, Bill Hunter, Keisha Castle-Hughes
The new film from Kriv Stenders (Boxing Day, Lucky Country, etc) is a charming, broadly appealing and incredibly moving family friendly film that ranks as one of the best local productions for quite some time. Based on the book written by Louis de Bernieres (Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, etc), Red Dog tells the story of a stray Kelpie that brought together a disparate community in the remote mining region of Western Australia. The film is based on a true story, although one suspects that a few liberties have been taken for dramatic purposes.
The film opens with the arrival of trucker Tom (Luke Ford, from Animal Kingdom, The Black Balloon, etc) in the remote mining town of Dampier. Stopping at the pub for a beer, Thomas sees the locals worrying about a seriously ill dog in the backroom of the pub. The locals regale Thomas with stories of Red Dog, “the most famous dog in all of Australia” who became something of a local legend. A series of detailed flashbacks show how Red Dog affected a number of people within the community.
American import Josh Lucas plays John, an itinerant drifter who works as a bus driver in town and eventually befriends Red Dog. But when John fails to return home one day, the loyal dog sets out on an epic journey to track him down, a bit like an Aussie Greyfriar’s Bobby. Rachael Taylor is also quite good as Nancy, a secretary at the mining company who befriends the stray dog, and is the love interest for John.
John Batchelor is excellent as the brawny Peeto, who has a secret passion for knitting, while Arthur Angel provides plenty of humour as the homesick, talkative Italian immigrant Vanno. Stenders has brought together a solid cast that includes the late Bill Hunter, Noah Taylor, Luke Ford and Keisha Castle-Hughes (from Whale Rider, etc) to play the various eccentric local inhabitants, who all have their stories to tell about the dog.
But the real star is Koko, a charismatic scene-stealer that provides the heart and soul of this charming film. There is also some winning humour in the rivalry between Red Dog and a feral cat.
There is a typically larrikin quality to the screenplay from Daniel Taplitz (Breakin’ All The Rules, etc). The film is also sentimental without becoming overly mawkish, although the moving climax may well reduce many in the audience to tears.
The film was shot on locations in the Pilbara and Dampier regions of Western Australia, which adds authenticity to the material. Geoffrey Hall’s cinematography is excellent, and captures the harsh beauty of this remote landscape. And a superb soundtrack of classic Australian rock songs accompanies the action.
Red Dog is Stenders’ fifth film, but it easily his most accessible yet. A real winner, this genial, crowd pleasing local film should enjoy healthy box office business when released commercially.