There’s a voice, keeps on calling me. Down the road, that’s where I’ll always be. Every stop I make, I make a new friend. Can’t stay for long; just turn around and I’m gone again.
I cried like a girl
Red Dog is the story of a red dog, called Red Dog. Throughout the 1970s, Red Dog lived in the mining town of Dampier, Western Australia. He was a common dog, adopted by the entire town. In 1979, Red Dog was poisoned with strychnine. As he lies on the brink of death in a back room of the town pub, the locals tell stories of him to a passing truck driver.
After 49 weeks sitting through family films of varying quality, I wasn’t holding out too much hope for Red Dog. If there is one thing I thought I had learned over this past year, it is this: if there ever was a Golden Age of movies for kids and families, we sure as hell aren’t living in it now. Off the top of my head, I think all the Kids’ Film Friday movies so far have been either American or British, making this week’s efforts special on two fronts. It’s Australian, and it’s really good.
Red Dog is a loose adaptation of a novella by Louis de Bernières from 2001, which in turn was loosely based on the true story of Red Dog, who wandered the Pilbara region of Western Australia throughout the seventies. The real Red Dog only stopped in on Dampier whenever he passed through the area, but the locals erected a statue of him there, inadvertently making the town the focal point of his legend. In Daniel Taplitz’ screenplay, Dampier becomes Red Dog’s home until a tragedy forces him to begin his epic wanderings. If you’re in a cynical frame of mind, you might think of this screenplay as deliberately and shamelessly manipulative, designed to hit all your emotional buttons at certain specified times. Maybe it is; I don’t know for sure. But if that is the case then my congratulations to Taplitz, because it works.
Oddly for a kids’ film, there aren’t any kids in it. This is a cast made up almost entirely of large, drunken miners sporting a truly magnificent collection of seventies sportswear and facial hair. Exceptions include the lovely Rachael Taylor as a Hamersley Iron secretary (the company behind the company town) and Josh Lucas as John, the token American (whose character in real life was actually half-Maori). The movie is somewhat episodic by design, but these two get a rather sweet romantic subplot that takes up most of the second act. Probably the only other face familiar to international audiences would be Noah Taylor—from Almost Famous and Tomb Raider—as Jack, the pub landlord. As entertaining and believable as the human actors are though, the real star of the movie is Koko, as Red Dog himself. He may not be the cutest dog in the world (that honour belongs to my sister’s little spaniel Molly) but he has so much personality that you can totally believe he can wrap an entire town around his little finger. Or, you know, paw.
Director Kriv Stenders has produced a film that I can happily go back and watch again. It’s by turns hilarious and heartwarming, and I guarantee you will have some dust in your eye by the end.