“The dog is a gentleman; I hope to go to his heaven, not man’s” - Mark Twain
Last weekend we watched the 2011 Australian movie, “Red Dog” directed by Kriv Stenders and starring Josh Lucas, Rachael Taylor and Keisha Castle-Hughes. The film is based on a true story. Louis de Bernières first wrote a novel based on this story and this was adapted by Daniel Taplitz into the screenplay of the film. The film is basically a feel-good, entertaining feature that has some moments of poignancy. Ultimately, one would call it an offbeat romantic comedy set in the 1970s in Western Australia’s dry and red Pilbara district where iron ore is mined around the town of Dampier.
The plot revolves around episodes in flashback about how a stray dog (“Red Dog”) stays in the mining town and changes the lives of everyone. It starts off when a trucker drives into town and stops at a bar for a cold beer. He finds the bar deserted and in a back room two men holding a dog down, with a third man about to pull the trigger. He is startled and intervenes, putting the men’s plans askew. They all sit down for a beer and slowly and episodically we learn the story of Red Dog, as the townsfolk come into the bar to pay tribute to the dog.
Directed in a no-nonsense, tongue in cheek way by Kriv Stenders, the film has lots of quirky characters and funny situations, without really being forced or contrived. Unlike the Hollywood dog-story-potboiler, “Red Dog” goes against most genre conventions and surprises pleasantly, even the most jaded viewer. There is pathos to provide emotional depth, but the rough and tumble lifestyle of the miners always grounds the viewer into the earthy humour that is such a characteristic of the Australian character, even in the direst adversity.
There is a romantic sub-plot and this occurs between the two leads, John (Josh Lucas) and Nancy (Rachael Taylor) – the American drifter who settles in his mining bus-driving job and the upcoming career woman who starts at the bottom as a secretary. Red Dog adopts John as his owner and this forms the crux of the plot as the various characters negotiate the vicissitudes of fortune. All actors played well, even the ones with the small supporting roles and one could sense that both cast and crew had lots of fun making this film. But “Koko” who plays Red Dog is the real star of the movie and he deserves every bone he was given (and every steak he stole)!
The film explores the themes of loyalty, friendship, isolation, community, love and hardship. It is a wonderful family movie that entertains, amuses and tugs at the heartstrings in turn. It has the qualities of a good, old Australian “yarn” – a story related to one’s friends, which invariably is supposed to be a true-blue story, but which nevertheless is embellished more or less according to the skills of the storyteller. And this is what the film is about, an Australian yarn. Although Red Dog existed (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Dog_(Pilbara)), there is no doubt that the story has been peppered liberally with stuff of legend and invented anecdote. A good author has to construct some sort of narrative around the facts and for a movie, the plot has to adhere to certain cinematic conventions. “Red Dog” is not a documentary, it’s a movie, and highly entertaining one at that. Go watch it!