By Helen Cox
Earlier this month New Empress attended the opening gala for the 17th Australian Film Festival at the Barbican Centre in North London.
Koko: canine star of Red Dog (2011), the film that opened the festival, was sadly unavailable for comment but the gala did begin with an introduction from Lois De Bernieres who wrote the novel on which the film was based, producer and music supervisor Nelson Woss and actor Noah Taylor.
The film itself is a lovingly-handled pup’s tale, liberally peppered with some truly excellent character actors and boasting everything you’d want from a creature feature set in 1970s Australia. Namely: plenty of over the shoulder shots from the perspective of our protagonist pooch, a rousing sing-a-long, a shark – or at least the hint of one – and licensed footage of Jaws (1975). A dog wearing a hat is also always a winner.
The story follows the life and times of a scrappy stray, the real-life legend of the title: Red Dog, who is adopted by a mining community in rural Western Australia. Red Dog is beloved by all but, for the most part, their love goes unrequited. This dog is a one-master-mutt and only has eyes for rugged meanderer Chris (Josh Lucas) who, much like his canine counterpart, has never managed to stay in one place for more than two years. A reluctant love story between man and dog ensues with his lovely girlfriend Nancy (Rachel Taylor III) and mining pals Jack (Noah Taylor), Peeto (John Batchelor) and Jocko (Rohan Nichol) adding a colourful and comedic garnish to this tale of a distinctly Aussie brand. Bay fans may remember Rachel Taylor III from his hit film Transformers (2007) – she was the one that wasn’t Megan Fox. Or Shia La Babycakes’s mum.
Red Dog cleverly blends the rag-tag appeal of The Littlest Hobo with the irresistible charm of Skippy (which everybody knows is really just the Australian version of Lassie) as our heroic hound saves lives, aids relationships and dissolves the intense feelings of loneliness felt by those living in the mining region of Pilbara. On paper Red Dog might seem dangerously twee but in reality it plays out as a beautifully-crafted human interest story which is, throughout, both very funny and deeply moving. The cinematography is such that it will entice those who never even wanted a dog as a child…although I’m not sure those are people I necessarily want to meet. If you are a dog lover I know you sat sobbing into your popcorn at Marley and Me (2008) just a couple of years ago anyway so you really can’t get all self-righteous on me about dog-tales now.
When I left the cinema I couldn’t think of anything else, within its genre (dinosaurs flying helicopters are always good for a laugh but that’s hardly appropriate here), that this film could have offered me: top-class acting, an engaging story and a head-swayin’ soundtrack that is dreamily framed by copious long shots of rural Australia. All this with the added bonus of a very cute dog. Definitely one for the DVD shelf.