Film review: RED DOG, from Built for Speed

Most films that try to encapsulate the Australian identity are about rugged blokes and doughty women battling the intractable landscape but some, such as the latest Aussie film release Red Dog, are more concerned with our four legged friends.

When young truck driver (Luke Ford) arrives in the WA mining town of Dampier in the late 70’s to deliver a statue of the town’s namesake William Dampier, locals at the pub regale him with stories about the town’s true hero, a loyal kelpie named Red Dog.  In a succession of slightly tall stories the locals (including bar man Noah Taylor) describe how the mercurial dog saved lives, united communities and even forged a romance between the town’s only good looking couple John (not Sid) and Nancy (Josh Lucas and Rachel Taylor).

With a cute and very well trained dog leading the way and with themes of tolerance, loyalty and community this is mostly an affectionate family film.  Parents should note that while this film is perfectly fine for kids there is some violence (albeit slapstick) and some moving tragedy.

With any overtly Aussie movie there is the inevitable hurdle of the cringe factor, part of which is the image of the anglo-celtic, red neck yobbo. In what may have been a conscious attempt to allay this image, the pub denizens in this film tend to be lovable larrikins rather than nasty drunken thugs. Also, to counteract the red neck stereotype the film places deliberate emphasis on the multicultural make-up of the town’s population. Unfortunately, the film sometimes indulges in ethnic stereotypes such as the Italian who looks liked he was plucked straight from a bad 80’s sitcom. There’s also the rather conspicuous inclusion of American Josh Lucas who delivers a perfectly decent performance but was obviously inserted to make the film more marketable in the US.

Another cringe-inducing aspect of Aussie movies is quirky, unfunny humour and this film does contain some broad comedy.  Fortunately, this isn’t too over the top and there are some genuinely funny moments as well.

There is some hammy acting to contend with but solid performances from Lucas, Taylor and Coco the Kelpie anchor the film; and what would any Aussie film be without the legislated cameo from the late great Bill Hunter.

Despite a few clunky moments, Red Dog is a charming family film and for the most part a digestible piece of Australiana.

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