Dampier, Western Australia, 1971. Thomas (Luke Ford), a trucker, arrives in this mining town to find a group of men trying to put down a poisoned dog but not having the heart to do. As a vet is found, publican Jack (Noah Taylor) tells the story of the dog. For this is no ordinary dog, this – a red kelpie – is Red, who fetched up here without a master and stayed. John (Josh Lucas) took a job as the driver of a workers' bus and immediately bonded with Red...
There was once a real Red Dog, who famous went in search of his master and whose statue stands to this day on the approach road to Dampier. But Red Dog, based on Louis de Berničres’s book, is mostly fiction. That doesn’t really matter, as Red Dog the film is very much about the telling of stories, and how the truth (if we can ever know it) becomes the stuff of legend. This film, told in flashback as a series of stories involving the title character, may not tell the truth, but it certainly prints the legend.
Along the way, there’s much character comedy, with some Aussie humour that’s fairly salty but kept within PG-certificate bounds. Geoffrey Hall’s Scope photography – digitally captured using the Red One camera – is very bright, colourful and high-contrast, and the movie’s canine star is very expressive and well trained. A strong human cast includes Noah Taylor reunited with his Year My Voice Broke costar Leone Carmen and a final, brief appearance from the late Bill Hunter. Director Kriv Stenders (whose previous film was Lucky Country) keeps the film moving at a fast clip. I saw this film and War Horse within a day of each other, and felt that Red Dog achieved much of what Spielberg’s film was aiming at, with much less sentimentality, anthropomorphism and self-importance, more laughs and with an hour’s less running time.
Red Dog was a box office success in Australia and won the AACTA Award for Best Film (beating Snowtown, which won most of the other awards it was nominated for) and AFI Members' Choice Award, with six other nominations How well it will do here remains to be seen: it may well prove to be too Australian for most British tastes. Although it’s certainly family-friendly, as it has a human cast made up entirely of adults it may lack some appeal to children.