A dog is a man’s best friend. And this movie probably demonstrates it best; when a group of lonely, home-sick, blue-collar immigrant workers in the Australian outback find companionship in a stray Australian Kelpie they affectionately dub “Red Dog”.
Based on a book by British author Louis de Bernières, which was in turn adapted from an Australian tale, the movie begins when Thomas (Luke Ford), wanders into a bar in the town of Dampier just as the pub’s occupants were preparing to shoot a strychnine-poisoned Red Dog. Later deciding against the execution, the men choose instead to hold vigil over the stricken animal while swapping their favorite stories about Red Dog with Thomas (and the audience).
We discover the eponymous canine spends most of his days hitchhiking across the dry desert, hopping from one vehicle to the next until he encounters John (Josh Lucas), a man who possesses as much wanderlust as he does, and the only person to refuse Red Dog a ride. Intrigued, the pooch continues to (ahem) hound John despite the constant rejection. Of course, they eventually warm up to each other, forming new alliances and relationships along the way.
The movie intercuts between the scenes in the bar and flashback scenes of Red Dog’s life, switching from the rusty, sandy Australian outback to the darkerned interior of the tavern, and gradually introduces more characters to the tale as they enter the tavern, revealing their names with a very Tarantino-esque freeze frame with a superimposed first name, contributing to the film’s cheeky, light-hearted tone.
While the plot follows a conventional storyline, the characters in the story are so good-natured it’s hard not to laugh at their jokes, even if they are predictable and clichéd.
As John, Lucas is charming and suitably rugged, and Rachael Taylor as his girlfriend Nancy, is feisty and plucky to hold her own as the only female lead in a male-dominated movie. The rest of the supporting cast members, as the group of lonesome miners, manage to imbue their characters with their individual identities, like the nostalgic Italian Vanno (Arthur Angel), and John Batchelor as the gentle giant Peeto.
But seeing as this is a movie about a dog, the real star rightly goes to Koko, the Kelpie responsible for playing the titular canine. Koko doesn’t really do anything beyond “normal” dog behaviour (he doesn’t have exceptional sporting ability or save clumsy children from wells), but a well-placed bark and puppy dog eyes are really all that’s needed to win a human audience over.
Red Dog is a feel-good crowd-pleaser that is entertaining enough to an audience of all ages, as well as doing a bit of justice to a favourite Australian fable.
Movie: Red Dog
Opens: Oct 20
Duration: 92 minutes
Age Rating: PG
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Family
Director: Kriv Stenders
Cast: Josh Lucas, Rachael Taylor, Luke Ford