Directed by: Kriv Stenders
Written by:Daniel Taplitz
Starring: Josh Lucas, Rachael Taylor, Noah Taylor, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Luke Ford, John Batchelor
Released: August 4, 2011
Grade: B+

Hands up if you’ve been the town of Dampier?  It’s located on the north-west coast of Australia and has a population of just over 1,000 people.  At the entrance into the town, you’ll find a bronze statue of the kelpie known to everyone in the community as “Red Dog”.  The plaque reads “The Pilbara Wanderer died Nov 21st 1979. Erected by the many friends made during his travels.”

Acclaimed British author Louis de Bernières (Captain Corelli’s Mandolin) was travelling through Dampier on his way to a literary dinner in 1998.  He saw the statue and started asking a few questions of the townsfolk.  The more he learned, the more intrigued he became.  It prompted him to put pen to paper and a novel loosely based on Red Dog’s life was the end result.

Screenwriter Daniel Taplitz and director Kriv Stenders (Lucky Country) have now brought the Red Dog story to the big screen.   The film is based on de Bernières’s novel but they decided to do their own research before kick-starting the production.  They too spoke with those who knew the famed animal and it helped them get a feel for the characters and the 1970s setting.

So who was Red Dog?  Put simply, he was a kelpie who roamed the rocky landscape of the Pilbara region.  He seemingly endeared himself to everyone.  There’s a scene early in the film where he sits in the middle of a dirt road and forces a car passing by to stop.  When the occupants get out and try to move him, Red Dog jumps up in their car and sits in the front seat.  It seems he just wanted a lift into town.

This film is split into two distinct halves.  During the early stages, we have fun getting to know Red Dog and the crazy stuff he got up to.  We also meet a curious assortment of characters and see the way in which Red Dog brought them together and put a smile on their face.  They include the animal’s pseduo-owner, John (Lucas), and his girlfriend, Nancy (Taylor).

After an unexpected twist (at least for those who haven’t read the book), the film takes on a more dramatic tone.  It was this second half of the film I enjoyed most.  The cheesy dialogue is left behind and we get to see these characters (including Red Dog himself) at their most vulnerable.  It will tug at the heartstrings of many in the audience.

The well-rounded cast includes Josh Lucas, Rachael Taylor, Noah Taylor, Luke Ford and Keisha Castle-Hughes.  The late Bill Hunter also makes a small cameo in what will be one of his final screen credits.  The strong cast is a testament to the film’s emotive story and beautiful setting.

He may not talk (unlike so many other dog movies) but the real star of the film is Red Dog.  The casting process took a while but it was a lovable kelpie named Koko who finally got the part.  There’s a humorous clip on Youtube (with close to 75,000 hits) where you can watch Koko auditioning for the role.  I was lucky enough to pat him when he was travelling through Brisbane on his “publicity tour”.  I only wish other actors would let me do the same!

You can read my interview with producer Nelson Woss by clicking here.