The bal­lad of a gen­uine Aussie charmer

Red Dog

Kapi-Mana News - - ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT -

My brother hates Brave­heart –a movie he was lov­ing for more than 170 min­utes be­fore you know what hap­pens to Wil­liam Wal­lace. Some folk just can’t han­dle the hero dy­ing at the end, re­gard­less of whether his­tory or the story de­mands it. I’m the same when it comes to an­i­mals on screen.

Hu­man char­ac­ters can be scalped, wood­chipped, eaten and set on fire be­fore my eyes. I may flinch, I may cringe, but I won’t re­ally mind.

But if a movie has, say, a wolf or a bear as pet or a side­kick, and it gets killed – the bad mood can last for weeks. The crux of all this is I have an un­writ­ten rule never to re­view an­i­mal movies. Ob­jec­tiv­ity goes out the win­dow.

As fond as I am of White Fang, had it ended with a dead wolf­dog, I would have hated it.

Bug­ger me then that last week Red Dog ap­peared to have the cinema re­lease sched­ule all to it­self. Bug­ger me again that the film opens in a Western Aus­tralia pub in 1979 with its tit­u­lar hero ly­ing on the floor, dy­ing.

Thank­fully, and mer­ci­fully, the ma­jor­ity of the next 90 min­utes of­fer more feel good mo­ments than a dozen un­der­dog sports movies.

Red Dog was a Kelpie/cat­tle cross who fa­mously trav­elled Western Aus­tralia’s Pil­bara re­gion through­out the 1970s, a dog owned by ev­ery­body and no­body.

He did what he liked, when he wanted. Town­ships adopted him as a kind of ru­ral mas­cot, he was given a bank ac­count and made a mem­ber of the Dampier Salts Sport and So­cial Club and the Trans­port Union.

The pooch’s leg­end in­spired Louis de Bernieres’ novel Red Dog, upon which this film is based. There is a fair amount of dra­matic li­cence – the feud with Red Cat? Red Dog’s trip to Ja­pan? – but it does fit nicely in­side a ‘‘tall tales at the pub’’ nar­ra­tive struc­ture.

Thomas, (Luke Ford) a trucker who has stopped off in the red dirt iron min­ing town of Dampier, sits at a bar hear­ing of the an­tics Red Dog got away with and the hearts he touched from salt-of-the-earth pun­ters.

This is back in the day when thirsty men sim­ply asked for a beer, not their pre­ferred la­bel of pil­sner or low carb lager, and Stub­bies were a pair of shorts that left noth­ing to the imag­i­na­tion – par­tic­u­larly on the love­able bully Peeto (John Batch­e­lor).

More than a movie about a re­mark­able dog, Red Dog is a nos­tal­gic, unashamedly rose-tinted look back at ru­ral Western Aus­tralia in the 1970, when red-blooded men from across the globe came in search of ad­ven­ture, for­tune and a cold beer amid the bur­geon­ing min­ing in­dus­try.

In­deed, a lot of the bar scenes could be mis­taken for Fosters com­mer­cials, but the char­ac­ters are charm­ers and the pic­ture’s com­mit­ment to two quin­tes­sen­tial Aus­tralian virtues – free­dom and mate­ship – never wa­ver.

The an­thro­po­mor­phism is rel­a­tively re­strained by to­day’s stan­dards – Red Dog doesn’t talk or drive a car – but it is present in the dog’s mo­ti­va­tions and lar­rikin streak.

Of course, one gripe re­mains. If a movie can make min­ing for ore look like a fun old time, why can’t it make a love­able pooch over­come strych­nine poi­son­ing?

Mates: Red Dog spends some qual­ity time with his one true mas­ter, John Grant, a free-spir­ited Amer­i­can played by Josh Lu­cas.

Star­ring Koko, Josh Lu­cas, Rachel Tay­lor, Noah Tay­lor, Luke Ford, Ro­han Ni­chol, John Batch­e­lor. Screen­play by Louis de Bernieres, Daniel Taplitz, di­rected by Kriv Sten­ders. 92 min­utes, rated PG (coarse lan­guage). Show­ing at Read­ing Cine­mas Porirua, Light House Pau­ata­hanui.

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