Directed by Kriv Stenders and based on a true story and a novel by Louis de Bernières, Red Dog is about the disparate mining community of Dampier, a town of hard bitten misfits and how they were brought together by the love of one incredible dog.
Throughout the first half of the film we gradually understand the natives‘ love for the dog. We learn about him through various stories of his prowess: how he came to be there, his intelligent nonchalance, how he brought couples together, and saved a life. Not loyal to one owner at first, he is everything a cinematic canine should be – clever, cheeky and continuing one of nature’s oldest grudges against his nemesis Red Cat. Gradually Red Dog becomes loyal to bus driver John (Josh Lucas) and builds up a trusting relationship that is at the centre of the movie.
Yet the film isn’t as touching as it should be. In its first half, characters that we need to grow to like and understand are shunted through scenes far too quickly for the film’s undoubted charm to really gain its full impact. As such the films humorous moments raise a smile rather than outright laughter, and characters can seem a little two-dimensional at times. The ultimate example is the romance between John and Nancy (Rachael Taylor), the only woman in town. The pair went from first date to waking up in bed together in less than five minutes. Even though it can happen in real life – if you’re lucky enough – in order for the film’s later emotive moments to resonate fully, one has to understand and empathise with characters by knowing them fully, rather than acknowledging the existence of their relationships.
Similarly the charming daftness of the miners isn’t quite as funny as it should be because we move from set-up to punchline so fast. One couldn’t help but think that the supporting characters’ best moments would’ve been funnier had more been done to immerse us into the peculiar world of a group of men living in isolation and the camaraderie involved.
The film’s pacing does improve dramatically once we get past its central moment; a death that leaves both the town and Red Dog bereft. The film shifts gears to a more contemplative tone and is more powerful as a result. This last part ensures that its ending still could cause an audience to well up with tears. However one couldn’t help feeling that the film’s earlier moments of poignancy should’ve done the same.
Despite its deficiencies, Red Dog isn’t a bad film. The acting is enjoyable and the story such an emotive one, that it still maintains the ability to tug on the heart strings. Perhaps it is too harsh to criticise a film that is (still) enjoyable and touching, but one can’t help but feel that with a little more depth Red Dog could’ve been a film with far greater pedigree.
Released February 24th