Midnight Movie Madness: “Red Dog”

Red Dog” – (92 minutes, Australia, 2011 – PG)

I really want to like movies featuring animal protagonist(s), and I’ll often check out movie listings for older, newer as well as foreign films hoping to find a good one.

But my problem is the same as with Science-Fiction, especially space operas: they both tend to be formulaic and “anthropomorphize” their subject.

Which brings us to “Red Dog“, an Australian film based on actual events. The poster tag lines read: “sometimes you pick the dog. Sometimes the dog picks you”, and “he’s been everywhere, mate.”

Statue of the real Red Dog in Dampier
Statue of the real Red Dog in Dampier

Red Dog was a mix, with reddish fur blending with the dust from Pilbara, the Northwest region where the dog’s stories developed from the early 70’s until his death in 1979. “Red Dog” the film, takes some of the stories, i.e. relationships, out of sequence to thread  with simplicity and clarity.

To review the film in its chronological order would mean revealing a spoiler from the start, so I won’t go there.

Red Dog, then, wanders into the mining town of Dampier, where misfits of various stripes and nationalities have wandered themselves looking for anything between fortune and oblivion. Red Dog hangs around several of the miners one at a time, seemingly offering his companionship and ears for a while in exchange for scraps of food and water, each man able to confess to his quirks without fear of being judged or ridiculed.

The miners driving Red Dog to the vet
The miners driving Red Dog to the vet

“While Red Dog was a dog for everyone, he had no real master”.

But when an American named John Grant (Josh Lucas) arrives in town to drive the company bus, Red Dog bonds with this new outsider, and makes a choice.

Red Dog and John Grant (Josh Lucas)
Red Dog and John Grant (Josh Lucas)

By then, the entire community has grown to accept Red Dog as a full fledged member. All of them except Red Cat, that is. Red Cat, the ruler of the caravan park on the outskirts of town, whose couple bouts with Red Dog are part of the legend, and two of the film’s great comedic moments.

The beauty and real charm of “Red Dog” is that it plays none of the usual, formulaic, tear-jerking or cheap-chuckle tricks. Director Kriv Stenders has four script titles under his belt as a writer and “Red Dog” is based on one of three books written about the canine. There is ample literary material and experience here to draw characters with more authenticity and substance than expected, all with a light and lively touch.

Red Dog” is a colorful and well paced tale, with many more funny and touching moments than 92 minutes tend to allow for. It’s a charmer.

Red Dog” gets five jellybeans.

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