When Red Dog (Koko) first arrives in the dusty Western Australian mining town of Dampier in 1971, he has no master and jumps into any lap or any car that wants him. But when American floater John (Josh Lucas) comes to town to work as the driver of a workers' bus, Red Dog takes to him. The locals, like publican Jack (Noah Taylor) and hardman Peeto (John Batchelor) love him, all except for the caravan park manger and his cat, as does newcomer Nancy (Rachael Taylor) who works in admin. She and John become a couple and Red Dog their much loved pet. So when John fails to come home one day, Red Dog waits for him ... and waits ... and waits. Despondent, he finally sets off to track him down on an epic journey around Western Australia.
Review by Louise Keller:
Red Dog is a real charmer. A quirky and endearing tale about man's best friend, Kriv Stenders' latest film is funny, moving and uniquely Australian. While you may have heard about the dog that sits on the tuckerbox in Gundagai, you may not know about the bronze statue of a red dog in Dampier, located in the remote north of Western Australia. Based on Louis de Bernières' book, Red Dog is the true story of a dog that befriends a whole mining community until he chooses his own master. Set in a colourful reality in outback Australia, the dog's red coat matches the distinctive red dust of the landscape.
First and foremost, this is a story about the relationship between man and dog.
Not surprisingly, the dog (played by lovable red cloud kelpie Koko) steals the film and is the nucleus around which all the relationships revolve. As we get to know the men who live in the trailers of the mining town, we get to understand them and learn their stories. The spectacular backdrop of the red dirt that extends as far as the eye can see, the white salt plains and the jagged mountain peaks beyond are all characters in this tale in which romance, humour and the importance of belonging are paramount.
Cinematographer Geoff Hall has beautifully captured the vast open spaces and the sense of isolation as we are drawn into the tight knit community, where the action takes place. They're a rough and tough bunch from all over the world, lured to the region for work and money. Their entertainment is self-created and Red Dog, the independent canine who has been adopted and embraced by the whole community forms a great part of it.
Man chooses dog or dog chooses man? It is Red Dog who picks Josh Lucas' bus driver John, not the other way around. The scene when Nancy (Rachael Taylor), the glamorous new girl in town causes a small sensation when she hops on the local bus filled with men is great fun. There is no shortage of seat offers, but she chooses to sit up front next to Red Dog, who has other ideas. A battle of wills follows. We nod knowingly when there's a touch of jealousy as John and Nancy's chemistry ignites, but like everything else (including the animosity from Red Cat), that gets sorted too.
Performances are all good and there's a wonderful vibrancy about the film that makes us feel a part of the community and the action. Cry a little, laugh out loud and feel the doggie love with Red Dog.
First published in the Sun-Herald
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It's a lovely loyal dog story, based on real events, but as a film it ends up not so much a story, more an anecdote, told mostly in flashbacks by the publican Jack (a bearded Noah Taylor), to newcomer Thomas (Luke Ford).
Red Dog has all the ingredients of a durable outback yarn with iconic Australian characters and elements - except for the glue to hold it all together. That's supposed to be Red Dog and Koko gives a doggone terrific performance, but writers Louis de Bernieres and Daniel Taplitz haven't found that elusive throughline on which to flesh out the basics and really engage us emotionally.
The film's tone is jangly and rambunctious; director Kriv Stenders pushes the tone too hard, to the film's detriment. It often feels overacted and overstated - perhaps because the screenplay is rather one dimensional. And while Koko is eminently watchable, it's not enough to see him padding about the desert and being cutely smart.
There are distractions and sideshow antics, but there isn't a key human character through whom the story gains traction, notwithstanding that the screenplay is in fact structured as a story being told by the locals - initially but not exclusively by the publican Jack.
The flashbacks to illustrate the story being told become laboured and the jocular running gag about the Italian migrant worker spouting on about his home in Abruzzi is overdone without a real payoff.
It's a nice touch to bring together Taylor with his The Year My Voice Broke (1987) co-star Loene Carmen and the film boasts a terrific 1970s outback look. But it's slim pickins for a feature film.
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RED DOG (PG)
CAST: Josh Lucas, Rachel Taylor, Noah Taylor, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Luke Ford, Tiffany Lyndall-Knight, Arthur Angel, John Batchelor, Rohan Nichol, Loene Carmen, and Koko (the dog)
PRODUCER: Julie Ryan, Nelson Woss
DIRECTOR: Kriv Stenders
SCRIPT: Louis de Bernieres, Daniel Taplitz
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Geoff Hall
EDITOR: Jill Bilcock
MUSIC: Cezary Skubiszewski
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Ian Gracie
RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 4, 2011