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Red Dog movie review: deserving of a pat on the back

Director Kriv Stender’s all ages ode to the power and personality of a great pooch trots a fine line between sentiment and sop and consistently lands on the right side of the border.

Inspired by the story of a stray kelpie in the 70′s who became an adored member of the small town mining community of Dampier, WA, where a bronze statue exists in his honour, Red Dog taps into the spirit of old school Australiana with infinitely more grasp of the national ethos than anything slapped together by Baz Luhrmann.

Red Dog, irresistibly “played” by a two-year-old kelpie called Koko, is both the film’s protagonist and the main plank in its central framing device. RD is on death’s (doggie) door when we first meet him; a stranger (Luke Ford) has driven into town and sits down at the pub for a brew. He is quickly regaled with stories from the locals about how the dog has changed their lives.

Stenders throws the film into a circular rhythm, darting back and forwards and curving between different stories and lives. The heartiest segment is devoted to Red Dog’s one true “owner,” a vagabond American named John (Josh Lucas), and his love interest with Nancy (Rachael Taylor). Their romance never finds much gravity, largely because Stenders and his writers are reluctant to hand the show over to them.

Red Dog’s trailer uses the line “sometimes you don’t choose your dog. Sometimes your dog chooses you” and that’s as great a call for the barf bag as anything in advertising land, but in the context of the film it gets away with it. Stenders handles moments of death and pathos with restraint, tinged in about the right amount of sun-baked gloss.

This watch-that-name director is following in the footsteps of Rolf de Heer as Australia’s anti-auteur filmmaker. Red Dog is worlds apart from Stender’s magnum opus, the dark one short drama Boxing Day (2007), just as it is from his claustrophobic period piece Lucky Country (2009) and quirky indie The Illustrated Family Doctor (2005). Like Josh, a traveller who never stays in one spot for more than a couple of years, Stenders evidently needs to keep moving.

Red Dog’s Australian theatrical release date: August 4, 2011.

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  • 1
    Corvus
    Posted August 9, 2011 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    Luke, thanks for the review, I was iffy about this movie but I reckon I’ll be checking it out now. Just wondering, to what extent does it follow the book? There’s normally more than a bit of artistic license with these things.

  • 2
    Posted August 9, 2011 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    Hi Corvus

    Appreciate the feedback. I haven’t read the book it was based on, but after writing this review somebody recommended it to me (using the words “YOU MUST…”). I’m assuming you’ve read the book?

  • 3
    Buzz
    Posted August 9, 2011 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

    I’ll wait until it comes out on DVD so I can cry at the end in the privacy of my home. If it’s anything like the Japanese movie “Hachiko Monogatari” or “Marley and Me” I’ll need an entire box of tissues.

  • 4
    Posted August 9, 2011 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

    Might be a good idea to have the tissue box on hand, but it’s far from heavy duty viewing.

  • 5
    Corvus
    Posted August 10, 2011 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Hi Luke,

    Yes, the book is brilliantly written and is one of my favourites (strange, because I’m normally a Lord of the Rings kind of reader). Nice and short too, a good reader could knock it over in a day.

    And yes, you definately should read it.

  • 6
    Alistair burch
    Posted August 10, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    A very good movie that both my wife and I enjoyed. Didn’t have the standard australian cliches.

  • 7
    Roma Green
    Posted August 11, 2011 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    I went and saw RD yesterday after much anticipation – particularly in view of the positive and high reviews. What a waste of time. I noticed someone said it wasn’t cliched – this is one of the most cliched Australian films for some time. The quirky characters, the only average acting (particularly from the leads) made me want to walk out. The knitting miner! This has been done so much much better (obviously not about a dog but Australian films about funny Australians) eg Murial’s Wedding, Strictly Ballroom. These films were funny, caustic in the best Australian tradition, dramatic, poignant (particularly MW) with excellent acting – and they didn’t require a pretty American to sell themselves. I am all for “family films” whatever that means but this was so dumbed down. The cinematography was very good as was the acting from the dog.

2 Trackbacks

  1. By AACTA film nominations 2012: AFI Awards | Cinetology on November 30, 2011 at 3:50 pm

    ...] follows with 12, Justin Kurzel’s Snowtown with 10 and Kriv Krenders’s crowd-pleaser Red Dog with [...

  2. By Stories about mining | Sarah Burnside on December 23, 2012 at 11:25 pm

    ...] the words of Cinetology blogger Luke Buckmaster, Red Dog “taps into the spirit of old school [...

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