Review of Red Dog

Red Dog (2011)
Feelgood dog story
28 August 2011
The interaction of animals and people is a source of endless fascination and this feel-good fable of a dogs's relationship with most of the residents of Dampier, a tough port town in the Pilbara region of north-west Australia, has a lot of charm. First there is the dog himself, a red kelpie with an amazing rapport with humans. Then there is some pitch-perfect acting from a good cast, fine cinematography making the most of the spectacular landscape, and a neat blend of comedy and drama – "Crocodile Dundee" with a dog as the hero.

The film has a most unlikely provenance, as it is based on a novelisation by the rather literary English author Louis de Bernieres ("Captain Corellis'Mandolin") who came across the story of the legendary red dog of the Pilbara on a trip to Karratha, near Dampier, for a literary event. (The locals have erected a statue of Red Dog on the outskirts of Dampier). The film-makers have sanitised the story somewhat – the real life "master" of Red Dog was not such a nice person as that played by Josh Lucas in the film, but they have effectively captured the atmosphere of a town where almost everyone was friends with a roaming Kelpie with a flatulence problem. It is the complete opposite of "Wake in Fright" with almost all the inhabitants of the hot and tough mining town being large-hearted, fair-minded blokes you'd be happy to have a beer with. Even Bill Hunter shows up in a very brief role as a survivor of a shark attack.

Although there was nothing wrong with the major players, John Batchelor was a stand-out as the mountainous Peeto. He was able to do tough-tender in perfect pitch. The dog, however, stole the show – the "Greyfriars Bobby" of the Pilbara.

The story does have some sad bits and I noticed some seven and eight year olds crying at the end, but this is such a good-hearted story I wouldn't keep it from them. It does show that doggy devotion can bring out the best in people.

The Pilbara was the setting for an earlier comedy-tragedy in "Japanese Story" in 2003, and this film exploits the magnificent land scape to the same extent. Essentially this film is a piece of folklore, with the exploits of Red Dog given mythic proportions. He almost certainly didn't get to Japan, for instance, but Perth and Darwin were probably on his itinerary. It's nice to know this film has done well at the box office – it doesn't patronise anyone, even cats.
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